SPRING 2016 DEBUT FICTION SAMPLER

Table of Contents
Dodgers: A Novel
by Bill Beverly
(Crown, April 2016)
A Fine Imitation: A Novel
by Amber Brock
(Crown, May 2016)
Tumbledown Manor
by Helen Brown
(Kensington, April 2016)
Homegoing: A Novel
by Yaa Gyasi
(Knopf, June 2016)
We Could Be Beautiful: A Novel
by Swan Huntley
(Doubleday, June 2016)
And After Many Days: A Novel
by Jowhor Ile
(Tim Duggan Books, February 2016)
Lilac Girls: A Novel
by Martha Hall Kelly
(Ballantine Books, April 2016)
Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge: A Novel
by Paul Krueger
(Quirk Books, June 2016)
The Translation of Love: A Novel
by Lynne Kutsukake
(Doubleday, April 2016)

The Wolf Road: A Novel
by Beth Lewis
(Crown, July 2016)
Twisted River: A Novel
by Siobhán MacDonald
(Penguin Books, March 2016)
Sleeping Giants
by Sylvain Neuvel
(Del Rey, April 2016)
The Year of the Runaways: A Novel
by Sunjeev Sahota
(Knopf, March 2016)
Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery
by J. Aaron Sanders
(Plume, March 2016)
The Mirror Thief
by Martin Seay
(Melville House, May 2016)
Try Not to Breathe: A Novel
by Holly Seddon
(Ballantine Books, February 2016)
The Last Days of Magic: A Novel
by Mark Tompkins
(Viking, March 2016)
Daredevils
by Shawn Vestal
(Penguin Press, April 2016)

DODGERS
A

NOVEL

BILL BEVERLY

CROWN PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 5

7/8/15 9:13 AM

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, and incidents either are the product of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Bill Beverly
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Publishers,
an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
www.crownpublishing.com
CROWN is a registered trademark and
the Crown colophon is a trademark of
Penguin Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-­i n-­P ublication Data
TK
ISBN 978-­1-­101-­9 0373-­5
eBook ISBN 978-­1-­101-­9 0374-­2
Printed in the United States of America
Book design by Barbara Sturman
Jacket design by
Jacket photograph by
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
First Edition

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 6

7/8/15 9:13 AM

I.

THE BOXES

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 1

7/8/15 9:13 AM

1.

The Boxes was all the boys knew; it was the only place.
In the street one car moved, between the whole vehicles and
skeletal remains, creeping over paper and glass.
The boys stood guard. They watched light fill between the black
houses separated only barely, like a row of loose teeth. Half the night
they had been there: Fin taught that you did not make a boy stand
yard all night. Half was right. To change in the middle kept them on
their toes, Fin said. It kept them awake. It made them like men.

The door of the house opened, and two U’s stumbled out, shocked
by the sun, ogling it like an old girl they hadn’t seen lately. Some men
left the house like this, better once they’d been in. Others walked
easy going in but barely crawled their way out. The two ignored the
boys at their watch. At the end of the walk, they descended the five
steps to the sidewalk, steadied themselves on the low stone wall. One
man slapped the other’s palm loudly, the old way.
Again the door opened. A skeletal face, lip-­
curled, staring,
hair rubbed away from his head. Sidney. He and Johnny ran the
house, kept business, saw the goods in and the money out with teenage runners every half hour. Sidney looked this way and that like

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 3

7/8/15 9:13 AM

4 | Bill Beverly

a rat sampling the air, then slid something onto the step. Cans of
Coke and energy drink, cold in a cardboard box. One of the boys
went and fetched the box around; each boy took a can or two. They
popped the tops and stood drinking fizz in the shadows.
The morning was still chilly with a hint of damp. Light began
to spill between the houses, keying the street in pink. Footsteps approached from the right, a worker man leaving for work, jacket and
yellow tie, gold ear studs. The boys stared down over him; he didn’t
look up. These men, the black men who wore ties with metal pins,
who made wages but somehow had not left The Boxes: you didn’t
talk to them. You didn’t let them up in the house. These men, if
they came up in the house and were lost, someone needed them,
someone would come looking. So you did not admit them. That was
another thing Fin taught.

Televisions came on and planes flashed like blades in the sky. Somewhere behind them a lawn sprinkler hissed—­fi st, fist, fist—­not loud
but nothing else jamming up its frequency. A few U’s came in together at seven and one more at about eight, crestfallen: he had that
grievous look of a man who’d bought for a week but used up in a
night. At ten the boys who had come on at two left. The lead outside boy, East, shared some money out to them as they went. It was
Monday, payday, outside the house.
The new boys at ten were Dap, Antonio, Marsonius called Sony,
and Needle. Needle took the north end, watching the street, and
Dap the south. Antonio and Sony stayed at the house with East,
whose twelve hours’ work ended at noon. Antonio and Sony were
good daytime boys. The night boys, you needed boys who knew
how to stay quiet and stay awake. The day boys just needed to know
how to look quiet.
East looked quiet and kept quiet. He didn’t look hard. He didn’t
look like much. He blended in, didn’t talk much, was the skinniest

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 4

7/8/15 9:13 AM

Dodgers | 5

of the bunch. There wasn’t much to him. But he watched and listened to people. What he heard he remembered.
The boys had their talk—­names they gave themselves, ways
they built up. East did not play along with them. They thought East
hard and sour. Unlike the boys, who came from homes with mothers or from dens of other boys, East slept alone, somewhere no one
knew. He had been at the old house before them, and he had seen
things they had never seen. He had seen a reverend shot on the
walk, a woman jump off a roof. He had seen a helicopter crash into
trees and a man, out of his mind, pick up a downed power cable and
stand, illuminated. He had seen the police come down, and still the
house continued on.
He was no fun, and they respected him, for though he was young,
he had none in him of what they most hated in themselves: their
childishness. He had never been a child. Not that they had seen.

A fire truck boomed past sometime after ten, sirens and motors and
the crushing of the tires on the asphalt. The firemen glared out at
the boys.
They were lost. Streets in The Boxes were a maze: one piece
didn’t match up straight with the next. So you might look for a
house on the next block, but the next one didn’t follow up from this
one. The street signs were twisted every which way or were gone.
The fire truck returned a minute later, going the other way. The
boys waved. They were all in their teens, growing up, but everyone
liked a fire truck.
“Over there,” said Sony.
“What?” said Antonio.
“Somebody house on fire,” said Sony.
The smoke rose, soft and gray, against the bright sky. “Probably
a kitchen fire,” East said. No ruckus, nobody burning up. You could
hear the wailing a mile away when someone was burning up, even

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 5

7/8/15 9:13 AM

6 | Bill Beverly

in The Boxes. But more fire engines kept rumbling in. The boys
heard them on the other streets.
A helicopter wagged its tail overhead.

By eleven it was getting hot, and two men crashed out of the house.
One was fine and left, but one lay down in the grass.
“Go on,” Sony told him. “Get out of here.”
“You shut the fuck up, young fellow,” said the man, maybe forty
years of age. He had a bee-­stung nose, and under his half-­open shirt
East saw a bandage where the man had hurt himself.
“You go on,” said East. “Go on in the backyard if you got to lie
down. Or go home. Not here.”
“This my house, son,” said the man, fighting to recline.
East nodded, grim and patient. “This my lawn,” he said. “Rules
are rules. Go back in if you can’t walk. Don’t be here.”
The man put his hand in his pocket, but East could see he didn’t
have anything in there, even keys.
“Man, you okay,” East said. “Nobody messing with you. Just
can’t have people lying round the yard.” He prodded the man’s leg
lightly. “You understand.”
“I own this house,” said the man.
Whether this was true, East did not know. “Go on,” he said.
“Sleep in back if you want.”
The man got up and went into the backyard. After a few minutes Sony checked on him and found him asleep, trembling, fighting
something inside.

The fire’s smoke seemed to thin, then came thicker. Trucks and
pumps droned, and down the street some neighbor children were
bouncing a ball off the front wall. East recognized two kids—­from
a neat house with green awnings, where sometimes a white Ford

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 6

7/8/15 9:13 AM

Dodgers | 7

parked. These kids kept away. Someone told them, or perhaps they
just knew. For the last two days there had been a third girl playing
too, bigger. She could have grabbed every ball if she’d wanted, but
she played nice.
East made himself stop watching them and studied the chopper
instead where it dangled, breaking up the sky.
When he glanced back, the game had stopped and the girl was
staring. Directly at him, and then she started to come. He glared at
her, but she kept advancing, slowly, the two neighbor kids sticking
behind her.
She was maybe ten.
East pushed off. Casually he loped down the yard. Sony was
already bristling: “Get back up the street, girl.” East flattened his
hand over his lowest rib: Easy.
The girl was stout, round-­faced, dark-­skinned, in a clean white
shirt. She addressed them brightly: “This a crack house, ain’t it?”
That’s what Fin said: everyone still thought it was all crack.
“Naw.” East glanced at Sony. “Where you come from?”
“I’m from Jackson, Mississippi. I go to New Hope Christian
School in Jackson.” She nodded back at the neighborhood kids.
“Them’s my cousins. My aunt’s getting married in Santa Monica
tomorrow.”
“Girl, we don’t give a fuck,” said Antonio, up in the yard.
“Listen to these little gangsters,” the girl sang. “Y’all even go to
school?”
Probably from a good neighborhood, this girl. Probably had
a mother who told her, Keep away from them LA ghetto boys, so
what was the first thing she did?
East clipped his voice short. “You don’t want to be over here.
You want to get on and play.”
“You don’t know nothing about what I want,” boasted the girl.
She waved at Antonio. “And this little boy here who looks like
fourth grade. What are you? Nine?”

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 7

7/8/15 9:13 AM

8 | Bill Beverly

“Damn,” Sony cheered her, chuckling.
Somewhere fire engines were gunning, moving again; East
stepped back and listened. A woman and a daughter walked by arguing about candy. And the helicopter still chopping. It tensed East
up. There were too many parts moving.
“Girl, back off,” he said. “I don’t need you mixed up.”
“You’re mixed up,” said the girl. She put one hand on the wall,
immovable like little black girls got. A fighter.
“This kid,” East snorted. The last thing you wanted by the house
was a bunch of kids. Women had sense. Men could be warned. But
kids, they were gonna see for themselves.

A screech careened up the flat face of the street, hard to say from
where. Tires. East’s talkie phone crackled on his hip. He scooped it
up. It was Needle at the north lookout. But all East heard was panting, like someone running or being held down. “What is it?” East
said. “What is it?” Nothing.
He scanned, backpedaling up the lawn.
Something was coming. Both directions, echoing, like a train.
He radioed inside. “Sidney. Something coming.” The helicopter
was dipping above them now.
Sidney, cranky: “Man, what?”
“Get out the back now,” East said. “Go.”
“Now?” said Sidney incredulously.
“Now.” He turned. “You boys, get,” he ordered Antonio and
Sony. Knowing they knew how and where to go. Having taught
them what to do. Everyone on East’s crew knew the yards around,
the ways you could go; he made sure of it.
The roar climbed the street—­five cars flying from each end, big
white cruisers. They raised the dust as they screeched in aslant.
East thumbed his phone back on.

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 8

7/8/15 9:13 AM

Dodgers | 9

“Get out. Get out.” Already he was sliding away from the house.
His house. Red Coke can on its side in the grass, foaming. No time
to pick it up.
Sidney did not radio back.
How had this gotten past Dap and Needle? Without a warning?
Unaccountable. Angry, he slipped down the wall to the sidewalk.
The smell of engine heat and wasted tire rubber hung heavy. The
other boys were gone. Now it was just him and the girl.
“I told you,” he hissed. “Go on!”
Stubborn thing. She ignored him. Staring behind her at the herd
of white cars and polished helmets and deep black ribbed vests:
now, this was something to see.
Four of the cops got low, split up, and gang-­rushed the porch.
Upstairs a window was thrown open, and in it, like a fish in rusty
water, an ancient, ravaged face swam up. It looked over the scene for
a moment, then poked out a gun barrel. East whirled then. The girl.
“Damn!” he yelled. “Get out of here!”
The girl, of course, did not budge. The pop-­pop began.

East hit the sidewalk, crouched below the low wall. Beneath the
guns’ sound the cops barked happily, ducking behind their cars like
on TV. Everyone took shelter except the copter and the street dogs,
howling merrily, and the Jackson girl.
East fit behind a parked Buick, rusted red. His breath fled him,
speedy and light. The car was heat-­blistered, and he tried not to
touch it. Behind him the air was clouding over with bullets and fragments of the front of the house. Cop radios blared and spat inside
the cruisers. The gun upstairs cracked past them, around them, off
the street, into the cars, perforating a windshield, making a tire sigh.
The girl, stranded, peered up at the house. Then she faced
where East had run, seeing he’d been right. She caught his eye.

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 9

7/8/15 9:13 AM

10 | Bill Beverly

With a hand he began a wave: Come with me. Come here.
Then the bullet ripped into her.
East knew how shot people were, stumbling or crawling or trying to outrace the bullet, what it was doing inside them. The girl
didn’t. She flinched: East watched. Then she put her hands out, and
gently she lay down. Uncertainly she looked at the sky, and for a
moment he disbelieved it all—­it couldn’t have hit her, the bullet.
This girl was just crazy. Just as unreal as the fire.
Then the blood began inside the white cotton shirt. Her eyes
wandered and locked on him. Dying fast and gently.
The talkie whistled again.
“God damn you, boy,” Sidney panted.
The police in the back saw their chance, and three of them
aimed. The gun in the window fell, rattling down the roof. Just then
the four cops on the porch kicked in the door.
“You supposed to warn us,” crackled Sidney. “You supposed to
do your job.”
“I gave you all I got,” East said.
Sidney didn’t answer. East heard him wheezing.
He got off the phone. He knew how to go. One last look—­
windows blown out, cops scaling the lawn, one U stumbling out as
if he were on fire. His house. And the Jackson girl on the sidewalk,
her blood on the crawl, a long finger pointing toward the gutter,
finding its way. A cop bent over her, but she was staring after East.
She watched East all the way down the street till he found a corner
and turned away.

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 10

7/8/15 9:13 AM

2.

The meet-­up was a mile away in an underground garage beneath a
tint-­and-­detail shop with no name. The garage had been shut down
years ago—­something about codes, earthquakes—­but you could still
get a car in, through a busted wall in the lot below some apartments
next door. Nothing kept people away from a parking space for long.
East took the stairs with his shirt held over his nose. The air
reeked of piss and powdered concrete. Three levels down he popped
the door and let it close behind him before he breathed again. A few
electric lights still hung whole and working from a forgotten power
line. Something moved along a crack in the ceiling, surviving.
East wondered who’d be there. Fin had hundreds of people in
The Boxes and beyond. After things went wrong, a meet like this
might be strictly chain-­of-­command. Or it might be with somebody
you didn’t want to meet. Either way, you had to show up.
Down at the end he saw Sidney’s car: a Magnum wagon, all
black matte. Johnny reclined against it, doing his stretches. He
squared his arms behind his head and curled his torso this way and
that, muscles bolting up and receding. Then he bent and swept his
elbows near the ground.
Sidney stood away in the darkness with his little snub gun eyeing East’s head.

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 11

7/8/15 9:13 AM

12 | Bill Beverly

“Failing, third-­rate, sorry motherfucker.”
East went still. They said that down here people got killed
sometimes, bodies dropped down the airshaft into the dark where
nothing could smell them. He looked flatly past the gun.
Sidney was hot. “I don’t like losing houses. Fin don’t like losing
houses.”
“I ain’t found out yet what happened,” East said simply.
“Your boys ain’t shit. Who was it?”
“Dap. Needle.”
“Someone’s stupid. Someone didn’t care.”
East objected, “They know their jobs. That was my house I had
for two years.”
“I had the house, boy,” Sidney spat. “You had the yard.”
East nodded. “I was there a long time.”
“Best house we had in The Boxes. Fin loves your skinny ass—­
you tell him it’s gone.”
It was not the first gun East had talked down. You did not
fidget. You showed them that you were not scared. You waited.
Just then, Sidney’s phone crackled. He uncocked his gun and
stuck it away. Behind him, Johnny wagged his head and got off the
car. Johnny was a strange go-­along, dark black and slow-­moving
where Sidney was half Chinese, wound up all the time. Johnny was
funny. He could be nice; he handled problems inside the house,
kept the U’s from fighting with each other. But you did not want to
raise his temperature.
“Sidney don’t relish the running,” Johnny laughed. “In case you
wasn’t clear about that.”
East breathed again. “Did everyone get out?”
“Barely. They got some U’s. No money and no goods.”
“Who was shooting out?”
“I don’t know, man. Some old fool, shotgun in his pants. We
was grabbing and getting. I guess you could say he was too.”

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 12

7/8/15 9:13 AM

Dodgers | 13

Sidney put his phone away. He turned, fuming. “Someone did
get shot.”
“I know it,” said East. “Little girl.” He could see the Jackson
girl, the roundness of her face, like a plum, a little pink something
tied in her hair.
“In the news it ain’t gonna be no little girl,” said Johnny.
“Gonna be a very big girl. It’s a little girl when your ass gets shot.”
This had been a bad time. Fin’s man Marcus had been picked up
three months ago. Marcus kept bank, never carried, never drove fast
or packed a gun, quiet. He had a bad baby arm with seven fingers
on his hand. He knew in his head where everything came from and
where it went, where it was—­no books, nothing to hide. Twenty-­two
years old, skilled, smart: Fin liked that. But they had him now, no
bail. No bail meant the PD could just keep asking him questions till
they ran out of questions. Since then, everything was getting tight.
One lookout picked up just loitering—­they kept him in for three
days. Runners getting scooped off the street, just kids, police rounding them up in a boil of cars and lights, breaking them down.
Some judge wanted a war, so everything had gotten hard.

They rode the black wagon south unhappily. Sidney coughed wetly,
like the running had made him lung-­sick. He wiped his gargoyle
face. “Don’t look at the street signs,” he snapped.
“Man, who cares? I know what street this is,” said Johnny.
Something went pumma, pumma, pum in the speaker box, and
the AC prickled hard on East’s face. He closed his eyes, like Sidney
said, and didn’t look out at the street.
Losing the house—­it was going to be on him. He owned the
daytime boys; he owned their failure. He’d run the yard for two
years, and he’d taught the lookouts, and until today everyone said
he’d done it well. His boys knew their jobs; they came on time,

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 13

7/8/15 9:13 AM

14 | Bill Beverly

they didn’t fight, didn’t make noise. He could not see where it’d
gone wrong. That girl—­he shouldn’t have talked to her for so long.
Maybe she would have wandered off. He could have let Antonio
muscle her a bit. She wound up dead anyhow.
What could he do? That many cops come to take a house,
they’re gonna take it.
A pair of dogs went wild as the car slowed, but East didn’t
open his eyes. Some of the neighbors’ dogs likely were Fin’s. Most
people would keep a good dog if you gave them the food for it.
And the cops looked where the dogs were. You didn’t keep dogs
where you stayed.
“Don’t look at the house numbers.”
“Man, how I’m not gonna see what house it is?” countered
Johnny.
They parked down the street and walked. A little girl on a hollow tricycle scraped the sidewalk with her plastic wheels. The day
had turned hot and windy. When Sidney said, “Hyep,” they all
turned and mounted two steps up toward a flat yellow house.
for sale, said a sign. Someone had blacked out the real estate
agent’s name.

Answering the door was a short, stark-­faced woman East had seen
once before somewhere. On her hair she wore a jeweled black net.
Her mouth was thin and colorless, slashed in. She showed them in,
then retreated, into a kitchen where something bubbled but gave no
smell.
The room was empty, bare, brown wood floors. The drawn
blinds muted the daylight into purples. A lonely nail on the walls
here and there told of people who’d lived here once. There were two
guns there too, Circo and Shawn. East had seen them before. It was
never good, seeing them.

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 14

7/8/15 9:13 AM

Dodgers | 15

“Everyone get out your house when it happen?” asked Shawn.
He was a tall kid, like Johnny.
“Little bitch didn’t even give us a heads-­up,” flared Sidney.
East ignored it. It wasn’t Sidney he had to answer to now. He
wondered how much about it everyone knew.
Shawn wiped out the inside of his cheek with a finger and bit his
lips unpleasantly.
“Gonna need me in Westwood tomorrow?”
“Depends. See what the day brings,” said Sidney. “Miracles happen.”
Shawn laughed once, more of a cough. He patted the bulk in
the pocket of his jeans approvingly.
A security system beeped, and down the hall a door opened—­
just a click and a whisper of air. The woman exited the kitchen
softly, on bare feet, and turned down the hall. She slipped inside
the cracked door and shut it. A moment later it beeped open again.
East watched the woman. She had a spell about her, like her time in
this world was spent arranging things in another.
She pointed at East, Sidney, and Johnny. “You can come,” she
said calmly.
East had been in rooms like this before, where guns had talked
vaguely amongst themselves. Until today, the day he’d lost the house,
he’d found it exciting. Today he was glad to be summoned away. He
caught a scent trailing from her body as he followed, and inhaled.
Usually if he got this close to a woman, it was a U, heading in or
out. Or one working the sidewalk, or stained from the fry grill. This
woman was perfumed with something strange that didn’t come out
of a bottle. He held his breath.
The net in her hair glistened: tiny black pearls.
The system beeped again as she unsealed the door.
_________

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 15

7/8/15 9:13 AM

16 | Bill Beverly

Fin’s room: unlit except for two candles. He sat in a corner, barefoot and cross-­legged atop a dark ottoman, his head bowed as if in
prayer, a candle’s gleam splitting his scalp in two. He was a big man,
loose and large, and his shoulders loomed under his shirt.
This room had a dark, soft carpet. A second ottoman sat empty
in the center of the room.
Fin raised his head. “Take off your shoes.”
East bent and scuffled with his laces. In the doorway behind
them appeared Circo, a boy of nineteen with a cop’s belt, gun on
one side and nightstick on the other. He stuck his nose in, looked
around, and left. Good. The door beeped as the woman pulled it
shut behind her.
Johnny took a cigarette out.
“Don’t smoke in here, man,” Fin said.
Johnny fumbled it back into the pack. “I’m sorry.”
“House is for sale.” Fin wiped the back of his head. “Purchase it
if you like. Then you can do whatever you want.”
The three boys arranged their shoes by the door.
Dust curled and floated above the candles. Fin sat waiting, like
a schoolteacher. When he spoke, it was with an ominous softness.
“What happened?”
Sidney answered, grievous, wheezing. “No warning, man. Paying a whole crew of boys out there. When the time came, no one
made a call. Didn’t shout, didn’t do shit.”
“I did call you,” East protested.
“When there was police already banging on the door.”
So Sidney was here to saw him off.
“Why didn’t they call?” Fin said it quietly, amused, almost as if
he were asking himself.
Sidney jostled East forward unnecessarily. This meant him: this
was his why.
“There was a lot going on,” East began.
Fin, quizzical: “A lot?”

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 16

7/8/15 9:13 AM

Dodgers | 17

“Fire trucks. House fire,” East said. “Lots of noise. The ends—­
Needle, Dap—­maybe that’s what they was thinking: police going to
the fire. Maybe. I mean, I ain’t spoken to them yet, so I can’t say.”
“I think your boys know to call when they see a police.”
“Oh, yes, they know,” East said. “Oh, yes.”
“And why ain’t you talked to them?”
“Something goes wrong, stay off the phone,” East answered,
“like you taught.”
Fin looked from East to Sidney and back.
“Was there a fire for real?”
“I saw smoke. I saw trucks. I didn’t walk and look.”
“Maybe it don’t matter,” said Fin quietly, “but I might like to
know.” He gave East a hard look and then veiled his eyes. East felt
a beating in his chest like a bird’s wing.
A minute passed before Fin spoke again. “Close every house,”
he said. “Tell everybody. Submarine. I don’t want to hear anything.
I hate to say it, but people gonna have to look elsewhere a few days.”
“I got it,” said Sidney. “But what are we gonna do?”
“Nothing,” Fin said. “Close my houses down.”
“All right,” said Sidney. “But how is it this little nigger fucked
up, and I’m not getting paid? Johnny neither?”
“I taught you to save for a rainy day,” Fin said. “And, Sidney,
I taught you not to say that word to me. You know better, so why
don’t you step out. You hear me?”
Sidney fell back and grimaced. “I apologize for that,” he said,
and he turned to pick up his shoes.
“You too, Johnny. You can go.” Fin sighed. “East, you stay.”
“You want us to wait for him?”
“No,” Fin said. “Go on.”
East stood still, not watching the two boys moving behind him.
When the door beeped open and they left, the woman was there,
outside, barefoot, waiting. She brought in a tray with two steaming
clay cups. She stood mute, and something passed between her and

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 17

7/8/15 9:13 AM

18 | Bill Beverly

Fin, no words, borne like an electrical charge. Then she placed the
tray with the two cups on the empty ottoman.
Quietly she eyed East and then turned and left through the
same door. Beep.

“How you doing?” Fin said. “Shook up?”
East admitted it. He was aching where he stood. Tightened up
more than ever. His knees felt unstrung. “Yeah.”
“Sit.”
East lowered himself to the second ottoman stiffly and sat beside the steaming tray in the dusky room. Fin spread his shoulders
like a great bird. He moved slowly, top-­heavy, as if his head were
filled with something weightier than brains and bone.
Fin was East’s father’s brother—­not that anyone had ever introduced East to his father. Others knew this; sometimes they
resented East for it, the protective benevolence he moved under.
But it shaped their world too, the special care that was given him,
his house, his crew. When East was a child, Fin had been an occasional presence—­
not a family presence, like the grandmother
whose house held a few Christmases, like the aunt who sometimes
showed up in bright, baggy church clothes on Sunday afternoons
with sandwiches and fruit in scarred plastic tubs. Fin was a visitor when East’s mother was having hard times: to put a dishwasher
in, to fetch East to a doctor when he had an ear infection or one
of the crippling fevers he now remembered only dimly. Once Fin
took East to the Lakers, good seats near the floor. But East didn’t
understand basketball, the spitting buzzers and the hostile rows of
white people in chairs, and they’d left long before the game was
decided.
But since East had grown, Fin was the quiet man in the background. East had never had to be a runner, a little kid dodging in
and out of houses with a lunchbox full of goods or bills. He’d been

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 18

7/8/15 9:13 AM

Dodgers | 19

a down-­the-­block lookout at ten, a junior on a house crew at twelve.
He’d had his own yard for two years, directing and paying boys
sometimes older and stronger than he was. Not often in that time
had he laid eyes on Fin, but often he’d felt the quiet undertow of his
uncle’s blood carrying him deeper into the waves.
Did he want to do this? It didn’t matter: it would provide. Did
boys respect him because he could see a street and run a crew more
tightly than anyone else, or because he was one of Fin’s favorites?
It didn’t matter: either way he had his say, and the boys knew it.
Was this a life that he’d be able to ride, or would he be drowned in
it like other boys he’d kicked off his gang or seen bloody or dead in
the street?
It didn’t matter.

“Try it,” Fin said.
East touched a cup, and his hand reared back. He was not used
to hot drinks.
“Not ready yet?” Fin reached for his cup and drank soundlessly.
The steam rose thick in the air. “Now tell me again why that girl got
shot.”
East saw her again, her face sideways on the street. Those stubborn eyes. He could still see them. “I tried,” he said, and then his
voice slipped away, and he had to swallow hard to get it back. He
stared at the tea, the steam kicking up.
“I tried to make her go away,” East said. “She been down the
street all weekend playing ball and just came up that minute. Then
the police. You couldn’t tell her nothing.”
“I see. Just her bad luck, then. Her bad timing.”
“She was from Mississippi.”
Fin sat and looked at East a long time.
“You know that girl hurts me more than the house,” Fin said.
“We got houses. We can move. Every time we move a house, we

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 19

7/8/15 9:13 AM

20 | Bill Beverly

bring along the old and we pick up the new. It’s that girl that costs
us. It’s that girl that goes down on my account.”
“I know.”
“She died.”
East swallowed. “I know,” he said.
Fin agitated his cup and stared down into it. “Get up and lock
that door,” he said. “I don’t want nobody walking in on us, what
happens next.”
East stood. He stumbled in the carpet’s pile. The lock was a
push-­button, nothing more. East pressed it gently.
Fin’s dark eyes followed him back to the cushion.
“So you’re free now. Had a house. Had a job. Lost the house.
Lost the job.”
East hung his head, but Fin waited on him to say something.
“Yes, sir.”
“You wondering what comes next?” Fin smacked his lips. “Because maybe nothing comes next. Maybe you should take some time.”
Take some time, East thought. What they said when they didn’t
want you anymore.
“There is something you might do for me,” Fin said. “You can
say yes or no. But it’s quiet. We won’t talk about it. Not now, next
year, not ever. You keep it till you die.”
East nodded. “I can keep quiet.”
“I know. I know you can,” Fin said. “So: I want you to go on
a drive. At the end of that drive, I want you to do something.” He
curled a foot up and pulled on it. Fluid joints, a slow movement.
“Murder a man.”
East drew in his shoulder and carefully dried his mouth on it. A
spark fired in his stomach; a snake curled.
“You can say yes or no. But once you do, you’re in. Or out. So
think.”
“I’m in,” East said automatically.

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 20

7/8/15 9:13 AM

Dodgers | 21

“I know you are,” said Fin. And he drank down the rest of his
tea, then shook his head twice, a long shudder that might have been
a laugh or might have been something else entirely. East felt Fin’s
gaze then and swallowed the hard beating inside him.
“Be ready tomorrow, nine o’clock. You’re gonna clear out
straight. So bring clothes, shoes. That’s all. No wallet. No weapons. We gonna take everything off you. Bring your phone, but you
can’t keep it. No phones on this trip. And no cards—­we’ll give you
money. You hear?”
“All right.”
“Keep your phone on, and Sidney will call.”
“Sidney ain’t too pleased with me right now.”
“Sidney ain’t got no choice,” Fin said. “Okay? Be some other
boys too going along. They a little older, more experienced. You
might not feel you fit in. They might wonder too. Especially after
today.” He swabbed the moisture from the inside of his cup with his
fingers. “But I think you got something they need.”
This praise from Fin warmed him.
“Gone five, six days. You got a dog or a snake or something,
find someone to feed it.”
East shook his head.
“Good,” said Fin. “Then we ain’t talking about nothing in here.
Just catching up. Stay a minute and drink your tea.”
East picked up the heavy cup. He wet his tongue. The tea tasted
old, like dust at first. Like something collected from the ground.
“You like this?”
East didn’t, but he tried not to show. “What is it?”
“No name. It’s good for you, though,” said Fin. “That woman,
she owned a tea shop. Then she fell into some things. I helped her.
She knows business. She knows about bringing in off the docks.
And she knows how to brew.”
East nodded. “She’s from China?”

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 21

7/8/15 9:13 AM

22 | Bill Beverly

“Half Thai. Half everything else,” said Fin lazily. “How’s your
mother?”
East coughed once. “She’s all right. She got a little sick, but
she’s better.”
“House holding up?”
“Holding up,” said East. “Hold up better if she cleaned a little.”
“You the man of the family,” said Fin. “You could up and clean
it. Stop and see her before you go.”
“Yes, sir. All right.”
“All right,” Fin said. “This is a big favor, man. This is not easy,
what you’re doing. I want you to know that it is important to me.”
Fin’s hands clasped his feet and stretched them, twisted them. Like
bones didn’t matter, like they could be shaped any way you wanted.
“I will remember it was you that did it,” Fin said again. He put his
cup down with East’s. The two cups touching made a deep sound
like the bell of a grandfather clock.
“Boy, go,” Fin said. “Not a word. Nine o’clock. Sidney will see
after your crew, take care of them. Don’t worry. Stay low.”
East stood. He felt childish in his white socks.
Fin brought out a thick fold of bills. He counted out twenties—­
five hundred dollars. He handed it over without looking at it.
“Some for your mother there.”
“All right.”
“One more thing you want to know. Your brother, he’s in. He’s
part of the trip.”
East nodded. But a little pearl of anger splattered inside his
chest: his brother. Babysitting. Not that his brother was any baby.
“Maybe you ain’t gonna like it. Figured I’d give you a night to
get used to the idea.” Fin rubbed down his feet, popped a toe. “You
know why he’s going.”
East put the money away and laid his hand over his pocket.
“Yeah, I know.”

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 22

7/8/15 9:13 AM

Dodgers | 23

_________
A bad street. Dogs bashed themselves against the fences. Televisions muttered house to house through caged doors and windows.
East was the only person moving outside. He stepped up to a porch
and unlocked the door.
In the living room, in a nest of dull air, his mother lay watching
a game show. She looked older than her thirty-­one: runny-­nosed,
fat and anemic at the same time. She drank from a plastic cup, a
bottle of jug wine between her knees.
East approached from behind. She noticed, but late.
“Easton? What you doing here?”
Her fierceness, as always, was half surprise. She sat up.
“Hello, Mama,” East said. He looked sideways at the game show.
“You come and sit down.”
He sat beside her, and she smothered him in a hug that he
­received patiently, patting her arm. She did not turn down the TV:
it made the windows hum. When she released him, her nose had
grown wet again, and she was looking for somewhere to wipe it.
“I thought I might see you. I made eggs and bacon.”
East stood up again. “I can’t eat. I just came by to check.”
“Let me take care of you,” she reproached him.
East shrugged. The TV swerved into a commercial, even louder.
It made him wince. He split off half the fold of bills Fin had given
him, and she took it without resistance or thanks. The money curled
unseen in her hand.
East said, “Nice day. You see it?”
“Huh?” his mother said, surprised again. “I didn’t get outside
today. Maybe. Where’s Ty? You see him?”
“I ain’t seen him. He’s all right.” He retreated to the kitchen, a
little preserve behind a white counter littered with empty glasses.
He could see her craning her neck, tracking him.

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 23

7/8/15 9:13 AM

24 | Bill Beverly

“He ain’t been to see me.”
“He’s doing fine. He’s busy.”
“He my baby.” Her voice rose frantically.
“Well, he’s doing fine. He’ll come around. I’ll tell him.”
“East,” she commanded, “you eat some eggs. They’re still in the
pan.”
Let me take care of you.
When he flicked the switch, one of the two fluorescent tubes on
the ceiling came to life. The kitchen was a wasteland. East bagged
what could easily be thrown out. With a napkin from a burger bag
he smashed ants. The eggs on the stove were revolting—­cold and
wet, visible pieces of shell. He turned away.
His mother had gotten up. She stood in the doorway.
“Easton,” she breathed, “you gon stay here?”
Embarrassed, he said, “Mama, don’t.”
Proudly she said, “There’s sheets on your bed.”
“I can’t tonight.”
“I ain’t seen either one of you,” she sniffed.
Like every minute weighed a ton. “Mama, let me get this trash
out.”
“Whyn’t you have some eggs?”
“Mama,” he pleaded.
“Don’t neither my boys love me,” she announced to something
on the opposite wall.
East dropped the bag of garbage. He found a fork in the congealed eggs, hacked out a mouthful, and shoveled it in. Sulfur.
He tried to chew and swallow, eyes closed, and then turned to his
mother. Eggs still milled around the sills of his teeth, horrible.
“You see.” His mother beamed.

East’s room was small but neat: twin bed with pillow, two photos on
a shelf. A carpet he’d pulled up because he didn’t like the pattern

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 24

7/8/15 9:13 AM

Dodgers | 25

and laid back upside down. A little dust but no clutter. He shut the
door, but the TV noise still buffeted him. He picked shirts, socks,
and underwear out of the pressboard dresser and stuffed them into a
pillowcase. He looked around for a moment before the door opened.
His mother, weary on her feet but still pursuing, stood in the
doorway.
“Any of Ty’s clothes here?” he asked.
She let out a sickly laugh. “Ty’s clothes—­he took them—­I ain’t
seen—­I don’t know what Ty wear.”
“Shirts? Anything?”
Two years younger, but Ty had left first. Even the room they’d
shared for ten years—­Ty barely ever seemed to live there. No toys,
no animals, nothing taped to the wall. Like it was never his.
She zeroed in. “You going somewhere? You look like a tramp.”
“Me and Ty need clothes for a few days.”
She hummed, casual but knowing. “In trouble?”
“No.”
“Suitcases in the closet. But they old.”
“I don’t need a suitcase,” East said.
He stopped and waited stock-­still till she retreated. After a moment he heard the squeak of the couch springs: she was down. He
was alone. He checked the block of wood he’d mounted inside his
bed frame, underneath: tight. He loosened it with the thumbscrew.
He left his ATM cards there, then tightened it back down.
At the door he said, “I’ll be back in a few days. Come see you
then. Come and stay with you.”
“I know you will. I know you gon come back,” his mother cooed.
He took out the remaining money, peeled off three bills, and
gave her the rest.
“I know you ain’t in no trouble,” she begged. “My boys ain’t.”
He tilted his face down, and she kissed him good-­bye.
_________

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 25

7/8/15 9:13 AM

26 | Bill Beverly

Down the street, freed from the shout of her TV, East heard the
silence hiss like waves. He walked north until he entered an office
park of sandy gray buildings nine stories high. Two of them stood in
a sort of corner formation, and East walked around them. A faint
hubbub of raucous people drinking came from somewhere in the
darkness.
A narrow sidewalk led behind the air-­conditioning island. The
concrete pad full of AC units lent cover as East bent at the last
building’s foot. His fingers found the makeshift metal stay wedged
between the panes of a basement window. The window fell inward,
but he caught it before it made a sound. Quietly, twisting his body
in one limb at a time, he crawled through.
The basement crawl space, dim behind dusty windows, was
clean, its packed-­dirt floor higher at the sides than in the middle. It
was empty save for East’s things and a faucet in one corner. It didn’t
turn on, but it wouldn’t stop dripping either, and East had placed a
wide stainless-­steel bowl beneath it; there was always water, clear
and cold. He tossed his bundle down and put his face over the bowl,
watching his reflection swim in upside-­down from the other side.
He drank. Then he washed his face, his hands, the caves of his
armpits.
The spot where he slept was a pair of blankets, a pillow he’d
bought at a roadside mattress store, and a large, heavy cardboard
box the size of a washing machine. The air conditioners hummed
all day, all night, washing out the hubbub and street noise. But that
was not enough. East paused, stretched, then knelt on the floor beside the box. His hole. He tipped the cardboard up one side and
straightened the blankets on the floor beneath it. He smacked the
pillow straight and put his bundle of clothes down at the foot of the
blanket. Then he slithered beneath and let the box drop over him.
Like a reptile, a snake, calmest in the dark. Even the sound of the
air conditioners vanished. Nothing. No one.
He breathed and waited.

Beve_9781101903735_2p_all_r1.indd 26

7/8/15 9:13 AM

A

FINE
IMITATION
««««««««««•»»»»»»»»»
AMBER BROCK

CR OW N

PUBL IS HERS

NE W YORK

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 3

11/11/15 7:55 AM

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either
are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely
coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Amber Leah Brock Player
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the
Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC,
New York.
www.crownpublishing.com
CROWN and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of
Penguin Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data
[CIP data]
ISBN 978‑1‑101‑90511‑1
eISBN 978‑1‑101‑90512‑8
Printed in the United States of America
Jacket design by TK
Jacket photography TK
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
First Edition

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 4

11/11/15 7:55 AM

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will
be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only
recover their senses slowly, one by one.
— Ch a r l e s M ack ay

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 7

11/11/15 7:55 AM

«1»
VASSAR COLLEGE, AUGUST 1913

If she had to guess, Vera Longacre would say that most of the girls at
Vassar College knew her name and could pick her out of a crowd, even
if she could not do the same for them. Her peculiar brand of celebrity
came without any effort on her part, much like the money, the houses,
and appearances on the society page. Very few of her fellow students
could claim to know her personally, and a still smaller group would
be able to identify her favorite foods or pastimes or which room in the
dormitory was hers. But almost everyone knew Vera’s face well enough
to whisper and nod discreetly in her direction as she glided past them
on the quad. She sometimes felt like a walking magazine cover, with
her name above her head in place of a title.
Not that she didn’t have a social group. In her first two years, she
had selected a couple of girls of adequate means and manners, with
whom she ate dinner and studied from time to time. The classroom,
however, was a sacred space for her. When the instructor lectured, she
preferred to be out of danger of distraction. She found the third row of
the classroom the perfect compromise. Freshman year she had made
the mistake of choosing a seat too close to the professor’s podium, and
sophomore year had taught her the back of the room made it difficult

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 1

11/11/15 7:55 AM

2 « AMBER BROCK

to hear over the whispers of less inspired classmates. Now, as a senior,
she had found the perfect balance. Close enough to hear well, not so
close that the professor would expect her to answer every question.
Vera liked to arrive a few minutes early. On that morning, she
walked into the classroom in the Main Building to find only three
other girls giggling in the back row. The auditorium-­style seating
sloped down to a lectern and desk at the front of the room, and three
large windows at the back provided far more light than the new electric
bulbs overhead. Once she had chosen her third-­row seat, she opened
her textbook to the assigned reading. She skimmed back over the paragraphs, then found her attention drifting to the plates, which showed
richly colored prints of a set of neoclassical paintings. Who could read
endless pages of dry description when the paintings were right there
to be devoured?
A satchel thunked down beside Vera, but she did not bother to look
up. Her two closest friends did not share any of her classes, and she
didn’t care for small talk. She flipped the page to a new painting as the
girl in the neighboring seat let out a huff.
“If you ask me, the problem with the neoclassicists is all the lounging,” the girl said.
Vera looked up to find a pretty girl with hair as black as her own,
though her eyes were blue instead of Vera’s brown. A playful smile lit
up the girl’s round face.
“I mean, look,” the girl continued, gesturing at the plate on the page.
“Every single figure here is draped against a marble wall or slumped
against a column. Surely one of those painters must have known the
ancient Romans or Greeks could stand and sit like normal people,
don’t you think? Just look at how this woman is flopping around.”
“I . . . suppose.” Vera could not think of a better answer to such an
absurd observation. “It is part of the style, though.”
The girl tapped the paper. “Oh, it’s always part of the style. Anytime they’re doing something silly-­looking it’s part of the style.”
“How would you have done it, then?”
The girl pulled the book from Vera’s desk and inspected it. She

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 2

11/11/15 7:55 AM

A F I N E I M I TAT I O N   »   3

waved her hand again, dismissing the painting in front of her. “I don’t
know. Wouldn’t it be much nicer if it looked like real life? If it had real
detail?”
“Like a photograph?”
A grin spread on the girl’s pink-­cheeked face. “Exactly. See? You
understand. With their eyes all rolled to the gods like that, it looks like
they’re having fits. The worst thing is how lazy it is on the artist’s part.
Making a person look real is far more of a challenge.”
Vera stared at the girl. At least she wasn’t talking about the weather.
“I’m sorry, have we met before?”
“I don’t think so, why?”
Before she could prepare a more polite answer, Vera said, “Because
most people introduce themselves before barging up to complain
about women in neoclassical paintings having fits.”
The girl’s eyes widened. Vera thought for a moment she would get
up and leave, but instead she laughed. “Then I’d better introduce myself. I’m Bea Stillman. Please, never, ever call me Beatrice.”
Vera’s brows shot up. “Stillman? I’m surprised we haven’t met before now. I didn’t know there were any Stillmans here.”
Bea shook her head. “Not those Stillmans. Related, though. He’s
my father’s cousin. We left for Georgia before he left Texas.” She sat up
straighter. “We’re the Atlanta Stillmans.”
The mention of Georgia explained Bea’s breathy cadence and
drawn-­out vowels. “I must say I’m surprised,” Vera said. “Why come
so far north?”
The girl toyed with her bracelet. “I was at Agnes Scott, in Decatur,
but my parents decided the New York set would be a good influence
for me. Fewer pearls, more diamonds. Though I don’t know how good
your manners are after all.” At Vera’s frown, Bea leaned forward. “You
haven’t introduced yourself yet.”
“Oh.” Her stern look relaxed. “Right. I’m Vera Longacre.”
“Of course I knew there was a Longacre among us,” Bea said with
a wry tone.
Vera turned to fuss in her bag. “Yes, that’s me.”

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 3

11/11/15 7:55 AM

4   «  A M B E R B R O C K

Bea paused at Vera’s tightened expression. “Oh, now, don’t be that
way. That’s not the first time you’ve gotten that reaction, is it, Rockefeller?” Her softened pronunciation of the final r made it sound closer
to “fella.”
Vera’s features loosened into a smile. She adopted the tone her
mother and her friends used to speak to the wait staff at the club. “We
are not the Rockefellers, goodness.”
Bea played along, lifting her nose into the air. “Don’t like the comparison?”
“Certainly not, darling.” Vera leaned in, lowering her voice to a
hush. “New money.”
The girls laughed. The room had filled as they were talking, and
now most of the rows were occupied. The instructor walked in, set her
briefcase on the desk, and turned on the slide projector. The slight,
gray-­haired woman’s voice bounced around the oak-­paneled room for
about five minutes before Bea started scribbling on a scrap of paper.
She passed the note to Vera.
Are you a senior?
Vera wrote yes and passed it back. After further scratching on Bea’s
part, the scrap returned.
I’m a junior. I live in Josselyn. You?
Ignoring the note for a moment, Vera put on a firm listening-­to-­
the-­teacher face. When she felt her point was made, she wrote Strong
Building.
Bea didn’t write back for a good while. At last, the paper returned
to Vera, with a new line.
You ought to get moved to Josselyn. We have showers.
Vera wrote back, Josselyn wasn’t built when I started here.
Bad luck. Do you have a beau?
This question took Vera by surprise, and she missed most of the
discussion about the sculptor Canova as she chose an answer. Finally,
she put yes on the paper and slid it back down the long desk.
Bea glanced at the paper and pursed her lips dramatically.

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 4

11/11/15 7:55 AM

A F I N E I M I TAT I O N   »   5

That took a while to write.
I didn’t want to miss any more of the lecture.
But you sure didn’t look like you were listening. Who is he? Is it forbidden? I simply love forbidden romance.
It’s not forbidden.
You can tell me. I’m good at keeping secrets.
Not now.
Vera thought for a moment after this and added: It’s not a secret.
When the professor dismissed the class, Bea stood and exhaled
hard. “I must say, you have me in suspense, Vera Longacre. Why don’t
you come with me and tell me all about your scandalous love affair?”
Vera laughed. “It’s not a scandal. It’s the exact opposite of a scandal,
as a matter of fact.”
Bea scooped up her books, papers, and pen in one messy jumble
with one hand and hooked her elbow through Vera’s. “Well, come with
me and tell me your deadly dull story anyway.” She shot a look out of
the corner of her eye. “I may as well say it. I wasn’t planning to like
you.”
“Oh, no?”
“That’s why I started talking to you.” Bea led Vera down the stairs
to the exit.
“You started talking to me because you thought you wouldn’t like
me?” Vera asked.
“That’s right. I like to pick a serious-­looking girl and say a few
shocking things, to see how fast she moves to another desk.”
Vera nudged Bea with her shoulder. “That’s horrible.”
“It is, but I’m starved for entertainment.” She rolled her eyes and
drawled out the word starved. “Anyway, you didn’t move desks. You
sat right there and said something clever.” Bea released Vera’s arm as
they entered the hallway. “I’m afraid this means we have no choice. We
simply must be friends.”
Vera studied the odd, lively girl beaming in front of her. Papers
dripped from the clumsy stack in her arms. Bea’s careless stance sent

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 5

11/11/15 7:55 AM

6 « AMBER BROCK

a shot of affection through her. Perhaps it was that carelessness that
drew her to Bea. There was none of the social posturing Vera was so
accustomed to. The girls she typically socialized with were so afraid of
saying the wrong thing, they hardly spoke at all. Bea wasn’t a breath of
fresh air, she was a balmy gust.
“If we must be friends, then I guess we ought to go to lunch together,” Vera said. “Would you like to?”
Bea nodded, and the two headed off, trailing paper all the way.

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 6

11/11/15 7:55 AM

«2»
N E W YOR K CIT Y, JUN E 1923

The two-­and-­a-­half-­minute elevator ride from the penthouse to the
lobby of the Angelus building was more than enough time for Vera
Bellington to contemplate ways out of her weekly Wednesday lunch
with her mother. What if she called to say she was ill? What if she got
into the Packard waiting downstairs and directed the driver to a different restaurant? What if she got into the Packard, went to the usual
restaurant, but sat at a different table and said nothing to her mother?
She could pretend to be a stranger. Terribly sorry, you must have me
confused with someone else.
Well, they would lock her up, no question about that. Her mother
and Arthur would conclude Vera had lost her mind at last, and would
spare no expense in finding her the best facility in which to go insane. Going to another restaurant was no solution, either. Her mother
would simply come to the penthouse of the Angelus looking for Vera,
and then there would be hell to pay. Feigning illness would also mean
an unwelcome visit. Her fanciful options exhausted, Vera went out to
the curb to meet the car. She did not have to say a word to the driver.
He knew where to go for Wednesday lunch.
Her mother was already seated in the Tea Room at the Plaza

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 7

11/11/15 7:55 AM

8   «  A M B E R B R O C K

when Vera arrived, at their usual table. Lorna Longacre was a slender
woman with steel-­gray hair coiled in a knot at the back of her head
and remarkably smooth skin for her age. This was, in part, because she
refused to frown, citing the wrinkles such a disagreeable expression
would cause. Of course, she did not smile much either, which probably
had the same helpful effect.
Vera slid into the floral cushion of the chair with a quiet greeting,
but her mother kept her gaze trained on a group of girls passing by the
window. Something between disgust and satisfaction pulled on her
face, as if insects had invaded and she looked forward to the pleasure
of stamping them out one by one.
“What are you looking at?” Vera asked, as the waiter spread a napkin onto her lap for her.
“The clothing some of these—­well, you can hardly call them ladies,
can you? The skirts on them. Can’t decently call them skirts, either. Up
to their knees. More like bathing costumes.” Her mother sniffed and
turned her attention to Vera. “If you had dressed with so little sense at
that age, I’d have thrown you out.”
“Which is why I would never have done such a thing, Mother.
Good gracious.” Vera peered at the menu, though she always ordered
the crab cocktail with sliced tomatoes.
Her mother shot her a pointed look but did not comment. “And
that short hair,” she continued. “Though it’s not just silly girls doing
that now. Do you know, the ladies at the club have convinced themselves it’s appropriate for women of their age? Petunia Etherington
came in the other day with it chopped straight off at her chin.” Vera’s
mother clicked her tongue. “Imagine.”
The two ladies ordered their meals, and Vera squeezed a lemon into
her tea. They sat looking around the room for a moment in silence,
before taking up the usual set of questions and answers that served as
their script for these lunches.
“How is Daddy?” Vera asked.
Her mother picked an invisible thread from her jacket. “Forever

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 8

11/11/15 7:55 AM

A F I N E I M I TAT I O N   »   9

with his horses. I’m always half surprised he doesn’t offer me a sugar
cube and try to brush me when he comes in.”
“When is the next race?”
“Not for ages. The next is Saratoga. I hope you’ll come with us. I’ll
call your girl and have her put it on your calendar.”
Vera nodded. “Did you go to the opera this weekend?”
“It was La Traviata.”
“Mmm. Daddy hates that one.”
“I went with the Stanfords.” Her mother took a sip of tea. “She tried
to hide it, but Eleanor wept like a baby at the end. Honestly, in public.”
“It is a lovely opera, though.” Vera inclined her head at the waiter
as he set down their plates.
“Weeping in public is for infants and funerals, darling. And even
then it should be done discreetly.” Her mother lifted her fork over her
chicken salad. “How is Arthur?”
The question should have been a throwaway one, but Vera’s throat
tightened at the mention of her husband. Thirty years of conversation
with her mother had taught her better, but her response was out of her
mouth before she could stop herself. “Mother, when Daddy was working . . . away a lot . . . did you ever get lonely?”
Her mother set her fork down on her plate and glanced around. “I
hope that’s a unique way of telling me you’re having a child.”
Vera looked at her hands in her lap, her face burning. She would
have been better off confessing an urge to strip naked and dance
around the restaurant than to admit something like loneliness to her
mother. She struggled for the words to explain herself and settled on
something close to the truth. “No, nothing like that. Nothing out of
the ordinary. But Arthur has so many late nights, more trips away. It’s
been a bit difficult.”
Her mother snapped her fork back into the air. “What did you
think marriage would be like? Besides, lonely people are people without anything to do. Don’t you have your charities? Your friends? Good
heavens, if we expected our husbands to provide us with our only

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 9

11/11/15 7:55 AM

1 0  «   A M B E R B R O C K

company we’d all go mad.” She narrowed her eyes. “Have you been
reading those romances again? Those silly things will rot your brain.”
“I’m sorry, Mother. Forget I said it.”
“Yes, let’s.” Her mother took a sip of water. “Oh, I have something
to occupy you. There’s a painting I’m thinking of buying, but I want
you to take a look for me first. One of my friends from the club introduced me to a dealer, and he says he’s got a Dutch master. He’s selling
at an amazing price. I’m afraid the price is a little too good.”
“Have you seen it yet?”
“I haven’t.” Her mother pursed her lips. “How much did your father
and I pay for you to go to Vassar? We may as well get some use out of
your studies, don’t you think?”
Vera knew not to take the bait on that line of inquiry. “When do
you want me to go?”
“Are you free tomorrow? The dealer phoned this morning, I told
him I didn’t think you had anything pressing.”
Vera stifled a groan. She did have a luncheon with the ladies in her
building, but her mother did not make requests. She mandated. “Who
is he?”
“Fleming somebody. He’s apparently a French dealer with an established gallery in Paris. He’s just opened an offshoot in the city to
better cater to his American clientele. I’ll give you the address. He’s a
few blocks from here.”
Vera tried frantically to think of some way she could redirect her
mother’s interest. The idea of traipsing through the city for a Dutch
master her mother would not even really appreciate was not Vera’s idea
of an afternoon well spent. “Surely his Paris gallery would have a better selection if he’s just setting up here. Why not wait until you’re there
next?”
Her mother shook her head. “No way of knowing when that will
be. Your father won’t go with me, and I certainly won’t travel alone.
Unless you’d like to go with me?”
An hour in a local gallery seemed a less daunting prospect than

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 10

11/11/15 7:55 AM

A F I N E I M I TAT I O N   »   1 1

a month in Europe with her mother, and Vera agreed to go see the
painting. After they finished their meal, her mother wrote the gallery’s
address on a card. They walked out onto the sidewalk to wait for their
drivers to bring their cars. Her mother’s arrived first, and she waved a
few fingers at Vera from the backseat. A hint of worry still lingered in
her eyes, indicating she had not forgotten Vera’s confession.

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 11

11/11/15 7:55 AM

«3»
VASSAR COLLEGE, SEPTEM B ER 1913

After their first lunch together on the day they met, Vera and Bea ate
together nearly every afternoon. At first, Vera had alternated between
her usual lunch crowd and Bea. Once, she invited Bea to eat with her
group, but the blend had not been a harmonious one. All Ella Gregory
and Lillie Huntsfield could do was stare, and Bea had pronounced
them “dull as flour, but with less taste.” After that, Vera adjusted her
schedule to come in late enough that she and Bea missed her other
friends entirely. The dreariness of her more appropriate friends could
not compete with her new, vibrant friend from the South. Unfortunately, her lively lunches made dinner with her old crowd seem even
more tedious. No one in her right mind would choose polite small talk
and inquiries about her academic progress over Bea’s naughty asides.
Dinner seating was naturally trickier to navigate, since the evening
lacked the casual atmosphere of lunch, and class schedules could not
be blamed for interrupting the standing social appointment of the regular table. One night, emboldened by imagining what her new friend
would do in her situation, Vera strolled through the dining room
right past Ella and Lillie, nodding a greeting but saying nothing. The
girls gave her stony looks but would never have dreamed of challeng-

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 12

11/11/15 7:55 AM

A F I N E I M I TAT I O N   »   1 3

ing ­Vera’s choice. She wove her way around the square, white-­clothed
tables to take a seat beside Bea.
“Not sitting with the Opera Board tonight?” Bea asked, a smile
playing at the corners of her mouth.
Vera spread her napkin in her lap and scooted her wooden chair
closer to the table. “They have each other. I thought you could use
some company, too.”
“Maybe they do teach girls up here manners after all.” Bea leaned
in and spoke under her breath. “You couldn’t take it anymore?”
“Not for another minute.” Vera laughed. “Your parents may have
sent you up here for the good influences of the North, but you’ve been
a bad influence on me, Bea Stillman.”
“Impossible. Girls like you are incorruptible.” Bea poked at the
sliver of roast beef on her plate.
“I don’t know about that.”
“You’d rather be corruptible? I knew there was a sinner lurking
inside you. Maybe now you’ll tell me more about your summer romance.” A familiar gleam brightened Bea’s eyes.
Vera wanted to reply that Arthur’s pursuit was hardly a romance,
but she stopped. Of course, technically, it was a romance. He wouldn’t
have visited her so often last summer if he hadn’t had marriage on
his mind in some way. So why did Bea’s description seem so ill fitting? “Maybe I will,” Vera said at last. She had held off this discussion
through weeks of lunches; it was probably time she gave her friend
more than just a passing detail.
Bea turned, eyes shining. “Finally. What does Arthur look like? He
must be handsome. Is he rich?”
“He is terribly handsome,” Vera admitted. She ignored Bea’s last
question, leaving a discussion of Arthur’s financial situation for a more
private conversation. A maid appeared at her elbow, and Vera nodded.
As the maid spooned green beans onto their plates, Vera tried to keep
her voice low until the woman stepped away. “Tall, with dark hair. Not
too slender. He’s about ten years older, and very sophisticated.”

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 13

11/11/15 7:55 AM

14 « AMBER BROCK

Bea wrinkled her nose. “You sound like you’re describing a building. What are his eyes like? His lips?” She drew out the last word with
relish, and Vera’s cheeks warmed.
“Goodness, does everyone in Atlanta talk like that in public?”
“Just me, as far as I know. Aren’t you lucky I came your way?” Bea
chewed thoughtfully on a green bean. “So, dark hair. Tall. Promising
start.”
Vera fixed a hard gaze on her food. “His eyes are lovely. They’re pale
blue, like crystal.”
“Like forget-­me-­nots?”
“More silvery than that. I’ve never seen eyes like his.”
“Now, that sounds like something a lover might say. Much better.”
Bea offered a quiet clap.
Vera glanced at the neighboring tables. “Do you have a beau?” she
asked quickly.
Bea laughed. “You’ve seen the reaction I get from girls. Can you
imagine what men think of me?”
“You’re pretty, outgoing, smart . . . I’d think your beaus would be
tripping over each other.”
“If I meet a man I like, I’ll have you write me a letter of reference.
My own mother wouldn’t be so complimentary.”
“I don’t know. It sounds like you get along well with her,” Vera said.
Bea had described a soft-­spoken, sweet woman with a wicked sense of
humor that belied her poise.
“I do. Most of the time.” Bea shrugged. “But never mind her. What
do you and Arthur do together? Hopefully more than sit in the parlor.”
“He took me to the soda fountain,” Vera said, with a hopeful lift in
her voice.
Bea sighed. “I was hoping for something more interesting than the
soda fountain.”
“Well . . . once we took a walk on the beach. He even took his shoes
off.” Vera laughed at the memory, but the look on Bea’s face suggested
the thought of a barefoot Arthur was not as funny to someone who
didn’t know him personally. Her laugh died away.

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 14

11/11/15 7:55 AM

A F I N E I M I TAT I O N   »   1 5

Bea placed a hand on Vera’s arm. “As long as you like him, that’s
the important thing. He sounds . . . he sounds very nice.”
“I do like him,” Vera said. She really did. There was something so
solid about Arthur, like an anchor in rough waters. What better man
to marry than one she could depend on? He might not be exciting, but
Vera reassured herself there were qualities in a husband more important than being exciting. Anyway, as long as Vera stayed friends with
Bea, she doubted she’d have to worry about a lack of excitement in her
life.

Broc_9781101905111_2p_all_r1.indd 15

11/11/15 7:55 AM

1

Excerpt from

TUMBLEDOWN MANOR
A Novel By

Helen Brown

Kensington

May 2016

2

Chapter 1
A birthday ending in a zero was nothing to make a fuss about. There was enough to be
grateful for—her health, a solid marriage, kids old enough to be off their hands (technically), a
passable writing career. Why anyone would want to celebrate being another decade closer to
filling a funeral urn was beyond Lisa Katz.
Nevertheless, she felt a prick of disappointment when, over breakfast at a diner near their
apartment, she realized Jake had forgotten. But no wonder. Poor Jake was working crazy hours at
the bank. His once lustrous tide of curls had receded to a charcoal reef, and the dark circles under
his eyes had puffed out into pouches.
“You’re still my best girl,” he said, before draining his coffee and dabbing his lips with a
paper napkin.
Standing, he bent over the table and brushed his lips against hers. It was one of their less
awkward kissing positions, apart from when they were in bed together lying side by side.
As a teenager sprouting depressingly close to six feet, Lisa had imagined marrying someone
as tall—if not taller than—herself. But while she was getting her head around the idea of wearing
flats for the rest of her life, she began to notice that most tall men were obsessed with women the
size of dolls. Lisa, on the other hand, was a magnet to pint-sized Napoleons.
Still, what Jake lacked in stature he made up for with vigor. The height difference had only
increased the inventiveness of their sex life in the early days. Back then, he’d stroked her large
buttocks as if they were the foothills of heaven.
Now, Lisa felt a ripple of fondness combined with relief as Jake slid into his overcoat and
disappeared into the gray fall morning. Pulling on her hat, cape, and fingerless gloves, she
stepped outside into her own private birthday, a day of doing just what she wanted for a change.
After a couple of hours at MoMA, Lisa had a session of guilty gratification with Mark. It
seemed vaguely immoral to pay for a stranger to rub oil into her back like that, but Jake was too
tired these days—and Mark’s hands never wandered.
Then, flushed and gleaming with oil, she headed home to their apartment building on the
Upper East Side. Set several blocks back from the park and surely the ugliest building in the
entire neighborhood, it frowned down on a narrow, shaded street.
At the door, Pedro greeted her with his eternal smile—a miracle, considering he held down
three jobs to keep himself and his family alive. “Lucky you missed the rain, Mrs. Trumperton.”

3

He beamed.
She’d stopped asking him to call her Lisa. It was typical Pedro to use her professional name.
To most people she was just Mrs. Katz, Jake’s gangly appendage.
As she opened the door to their apartment, Lisa stumbled backwards.
“Surprise!”
Jake stepped toward her, his dark eyes glowing in triumph. What was he doing home this
early? He took her hand and guided her to the living room.
“Happy birthday, Mom!” Ted encircled her in his arms, sending her hat tumbling to the floor.
“Ted? You came all the way from Australia?” Lisa was suddenly aware that she was shaking.
“When did you get here?”
“This morning.” Her son picked up her hat and dusted it off.
“How did you get time off?” She scraped her hands through her hair, hoping he wouldn’t
notice how oily it was from the massage.
“I’ve got a week before my next exam,” he said.
The genetic slot machine had been kind to Ted. Not only had he inherited his father’s
Mediterranean coloring rather than her bloodshot, watery-eyed Nordic genes, but he was tall and
well built. The shadow of a beard made his chin more pronounced and highlighted his eyes.
Whatever he was up to besides architecture studies was doing him good.
Lisa was about to tease him about his Australian accent when the pantry door burst open.
“Surprise!” Portia teetered toward Lisa in shoes that would qualify as stilts.
As her daughter bent to kiss her in a flurry of blond hair and blue fingernails, Lisa noticed a
new Care Bear tattoo on Portia’s neck. Had she lost weight? Either way, this wasn’t the time to
cause friction. Not when Portia had sacrificed hours of her glamorous Venice Beach lifestyle to
show up.
Lisa’s heart pounded in her ears. “How lovely,” she quavered, wondering if they were
expecting her to cook and, if so, what she could possibly feed them. Following her latest diet
book’s instructions, she’d gutted the fridge. From memory, the only thing in there was a halfdead bottle of Coke Zero. “I really had no idea. . . .”
“Surprise!”
A fresh surge of dread ran through Lisa. Kerry, her weekly lunch buddy, emerged from the
hallway. Lisa relaxed a little. Armed with a potted peace lily, he was closely followed by
Vanessa from the publishing house. Jake had chosen well. If he was going to startle her with

4

anyone, these were the best possible . . .
“Surprise!”
Not another. Her system could take only so much. Lisa’s blood drained to her feet as her
older sister Maxine emerged from the bedroom with husband Gordon in her wake.
“We took the same flight as Ted,” Maxine gushed, floating toward Lisa in a lurid caftan that
made her resemble a psychedelic emu.
Most women of a certain age fade into blond. Maxine had opted for ginger, which had
deepened to fiery purple. It was a shade that shouldn’t have suited anyone, but it glowed against
Maxine’s pearly skin in a way that was strangely compelling. With intense emerald eyes
beaming out from her round, freckled face, Maxine could’ve passed as an extra from Lord of the
Rings. Smiling shyly over Maxine’s shoulder was Gordon, his broom of white hair and podgy
pink face resembling the features of a man-sized koala.
“But it’s such a long way to come just for me,” Lisa said.
“You always were the spoilt one,” crooned Maxine, brushing Lisa’s cheek with a kiss. “Just
kidding.” Maxine’s smile flickered with complication, and Lisa wondered if her sister would
ever let go of the endless list of evidence that proved Lisa was their father’s favorite. High on the
list, for example, was the time Lisa had allegedly tricked him into believing she needed to stay
home from school because of a “tummy ache,” while Maxine, who was the one coming down
with authentic measles, was forced to go. Maxine needed therapy. She had nothing to complain
about, not when she’d clearly been the center of their mother’s universe. The moment Maxine
drew her first breath, their mother, Ruby, had recognized a mini replica of herself. Everything
about Maxine—from the red hair and compact build to the terrifying presence on any sports
field—screamed MacNally.
In contrast, their father, William Trumperton, had been a sensitive man who avoided conflict.
Lisa still clung to what he’d told her in a rare moment of unguardedness—that he found it hard to
believe she and Maxine were from the same stable. Once or twice, she’d wondered if he’d been
speaking literally and they had different fathers. She wouldn’t have put anything past Ruby.
Now Maxine stood on tiptoe to help Lisa shed her cape. “Begging on the streets again, are
we?” she said, casting an eye over Lisa’s fingerless gloves.
Under normal circumstances, Lisa would’ve cracked back about purple hair and caftans
covered in hideous fake rubies. Maxine had been born with appalling taste that no amount of
private schooling could cure. But the ambush of family affection had thrown Lisa.

5

Maxine wandered over to the kitchen area , pulled a bottle out of the fridge and inspected the
label. Her eyes narrowed. “You know it has to come from a special part of France to be the real
thing.”
Lisa assured her she was perfectly happy with sparkling wine from California. Jake had
introduced it as part of their “post-global-financial-crisis” economy drive. It wasn’t too sweet
and had the same effect, more or less.
Corks popped. Glasses foamed and were passed around. As Jake lifted a mosaic of hors
d’oeuvres from the fridge, Lisa was reminded why she’d fallen in love with him. Jake Katz the
romantic, the magician . . . “You are organized!” she said, giving him a peck on the cheek. She
was amazed he even knew how to find a caterer.
“Well, my dear. It’s not every day you turn f—”
“Hush!” She gently covered his mouth. “But darling, it’s so thoughtful of you.”
Jake cleared his throat and puffed his chest out, which was his way of making himself taller.
The room settled expectantly. Poor darling—what hair he had left was graying at the temples.
But he was aging well. Not just in looks. Even though their sex life was intermittent these days,
Lisa took silent pride in the fact he took no interest in advertisements for Viagra.
“I’d like to thank you all for coming here today, some of you from a very long way,” he said,
raising a glass to Maxine and Gordon.
“Well, it was a convenient stop-off before our Alaskan cruise,” Maxine chimed in—
unnecessarily, Lisa thought.
“Those polar bears will be counting the days till they see you.” Jake chortled.
Lisa’s smile froze. Jake and Maxine were too alike. Neither could stand the other’s hogging
the limelight. To Lisa’s relief, Maxine lowered her eyes and took a swig from her glass.
“And we mustn’t forget Ted,” Jake continued.
Perched on the arm of the black leather sofa, Ted was engrossed in his phone. Hearing his
name, he flipped out of whatever conversation he was having and aimed the gadget at his
parents. Lisa hastily bent her knees so Jake could drape his arm over her shoulder and smile
foolishly at the lens.
Portia stood cross-armed in a corner. She rolled her eyes as Jake asked to see the photo. “And
you too, of course, Portia,” he said, nodding approval and handing the phone back to Ted.
“Venice Beach isn’t exactly in the neighborhood. Anyway, I just wanted to take this opportunity
to thank my wonderful wife of twenty-four years.”

6
“Twenty-three!” Maxine corrected.
“Oh, is that right?” Jake said, looking to Lisa for rescue.
Lisa was hopeless at maths. She had no idea.
“Yes,” Maxine said, pointing a glittering talon at him. “You two were married exactly two
years after Gordon and me. Of course we had a church wedding. . . .”
As if nobody knew Maxine and Gordon Frogget’s union had been sanctified by God and half
the stockbrokers of Camberwell.
With rare composure, Jake loosened his tie and slid some notes from his breast pocket.
“When we first met in Fiji all those years ago, I had no idea how deeply I was going to fall for
this Aussie girl,” he read.
“Oh, Jake,” Lisa said, her eyes moistening.
“Lisa, I can’t thank you enough for moving across oceans to make a life with me and raise
our two kids here. You’re my rock, my inspiration. . . .”
Lisa felt guilty for all the times she’d yelled at him for coming home late and going to those
interminable conferences.
“You’re the artist to my knuckleheaded bean counting,” he went on. “The sunflower-covered
straw hat to my suit. You remind me of what really matters in life. You’re the—”
“Wind beneath your wings?” Portia said archly.
Honestly, there were times Lisa could have throttled her offspring. Temporarily, of course.
Jake composed himself and glanced down at his notes. He always liked his speeches to have
a serious core. Lisa could tell he was building up to a crescendo.
“When you were struck with breast cancer last year we all faced the terrible prospect of
losing you. . . .”
Oh God. She’d packed all that away in a mental filing box labeled Forget About It. She was
fine now, just fine.
There was a tap at the door. Ted moved silently across the room to open it while Jake
continued. “And now, knowing you have the all-clear, we treasure you even more. . . .”
The room glowed with admiration as Ted reappeared with an enormous basket of red roses.
Lisa had never seen anything like it. The arrangement was so huge it dwarfed her son.
“Oh Lord, Jake!” She reached for the small white envelope dangling from one of the stalks.
Jake suddenly turned pale. He lunged in front of her and tried to snatch the envelope.
Smiling, she nudged him away.

7

Lisa could feel her cheeks reddening as she tore open the envelope and pulled out a heartshaped card. Jake could be such a romantic devil. She blew him a kiss, but his eyes were blank,
his mouth slightly open.
“To my darling . . . Belle,” she read aloud.
There had to be a mistake. The handwriting was Jake’s. Lisa’s throat tightened. She tried to
stop, but her voice kept reading the words aloud. “I cannot wait until we are together forever.”
Lisa’s body slowly turned to stone. She knew Belle, the blonde from HR at the bank. Belle of
the enormous boobs and pipe-cleaner legs, who said she’d read every book Lisa had ever written
and was her biggest fan.
“So I can bury my head in your thighs every night . . . All my love, Jake.”
Silence.
Jake’s face flushed with panic as the room’s gaze swiveled from Lisa to him. “This is
outrageous!” he declared, grappling for the phone in his suit pocket. Temples gleaming, he
stabbed the numbers for Eva the florist.
Usually when Jake turned purple, Lisa tried to calm him down, because he loved cheese and
didn’t exercise enough. But the normal Lisa had vanished and been replaced by a hate-filled
clone who was willing the arteries around his heart to explode.
“What do you mean you sent them to the usual address?!” Jake shouted at the plastic
rectangle in his hand.
He should’ve known not to trust Eva. Ever since her mother had died, she’d started talking to
her carnations. Now Eva had sent the ridiculous arrangement to the usual address without
thinking.
Lisa watched as a crazed woman roared across the room and walloped Jake across the face.
Who was she? Oh, that’s right. It was the other Lisa, the one so outraged and wounded she was
about to commit murder. Or, on second thought, serious injury. Jake would be on life support for
weeks. She’d enjoy the luxury of watching him suffer with tubes and probes sprouting from
every orifice until she had the pleasure of switching off the machine.
Then she noticed Portia and Ted clinging to each other in the corner, as if they were watching
a 3D version of The Evil Dead. Nice Lisa, their mother, wanted to protect them from the ugliness
of this scene. But evil Lisa required them to witness the rawness of her pain, to know who the
victim was.
She grabbed Jake by the shoulders and shook him savagely. Somewhere in the background, a

8

door clicked. Vanessa and Kerry had made a discreet exit, leaving the peace lily as sole evidence
of their presence.
Gordon lumbered over to the kitchen and stooped over the sink. He unraveled the rinse hose
and studied it as if it might contain the solution to global warming.
Lisa the lunatic pummeled Jake’s chest with her fists. Then a giant emu wafted over and
peeled her off Jake and enveloped her in its wings.
Maxine’s muscles were strong and tense as Lisa sobbed into her neck. Her earrings jangled.
Lisa smelled Dior’s Poison on Maxine’s neck and champagne on her breath.
“Get out, you bastard!” Maxine yelled.
Lisa was suddenly six years old again, in the schoolyard. Big sister Maxine was shielding
her, throwing sticks at Colin the bully from the butcher shop until he slunk around the corner of
the bike sheds.
Jake stood frozen, wild-eyed, like a mouse about to be devoured by a snake.
“And take your lousy flowers with you!” screeched the crazed woman Lisa now recognized
as herself, as she tore roses out of the basket and hurled them in Jake’s face. A sane part of her
was grateful the roses were thornless—not that she would have minded making him bleed.
Jake scuttled into the bedroom.
“Liar!” she bellowed, clawing his back as he passed. “I hate you!”
Jake dragged a weekend bag from the closet and stuffed it frantically with socks and
underpants.
“When did it start?” Lisa spat at his bald patch.
Jake pretended not to hear.
“When?”
“Dunno . . .” he mumbled. “Nine months ago or so.”
She did the calculation. That would’ve been three months after her surgery, around the time
of her last book launch. Belle had been all smiles as she waited in line for Lisa to sign a copy of
Charlotte, the first in her trilogy called Three Sisters. “Such a brilliant idea to write historical
romances based on the Brontë sisters,” Belle had sniveled, all teeth and fake diamond earrings.
Hang on a minute. What if they weren’t fake? Maybe Belle’s earrings were the cause of
Jake’s latest economy drive restricting them each to one latte a day. Anyway, Cow Belle (that’s
what Lisa was going to call her from now on) had sworn she couldn’t wait to read about Emily
Brontë in Lisa’s next book, Three Sisters: Emily. Belle had then scurried off to screw the

9
author’s husband. Nice work, Cow Belle.
“Do you love her?” Lisa asked, her voice steeped in ice.
Jake stopped and stared at the carpet.
Soon after the book launch, Jake had gone away for a two-week conference, which, come to
think of it, was suspiciously long. Now Lisa scoffed at her own stupidity. She should’ve been
savvy enough to check his e-mails. But she’d trusted him so naïvely, she hadn’t even bothered to
memorize his password.
Then there was the condom-packet-in-the-toiletry-bag incident. She’d been rummaging for
dental floss one morning when the silvery little sachet had brushed her fingers. It was strange,
because she hadn’t had a period for months. When she had showed it to him, he had blushed
before swearing it was leftover from ages ago and tossing it in the bin.
Why did she always believe him?
“I said, do you love her?” Her tone was dangerous now.
“I don’t know,” he replied quietly.
“You don’t know?!”
“There are two sorts of loving,” he said after a long silence. “Having and desiring. I have
you . . . but . . .”
“You desire her!”
Lisa galloped to the living room, and grabbed what was left of the flower basket. Back in the
bedroom, Jake was on his knees jamming T-shirts into his bag. With a rush of satisfaction, she
emptied the remaining roses and the contents of the well-filled vase over his head.
Jake stood up and brushed the water off his suit. Then he picked up his bag, rearranged his
hair, and ran. Lisa chased him as far as the living room, but he was too nimble on his feet. He
slid out the door toward the elevator and was gone.
As she stood panting, gazing at her open-mouthed guests, Lisa understood exactly what she
was having—a birthday ending with a zero.

10

Chapter 2
Lisa woke safe and warm inside a cocoon of sheets. Judging by the gray frame of light
around the curtains, the sun—or what there was of it—had already dragged itself out of bed. Her
tongue slid around the comforting shape of her mouth guard. According to the dentist, she’d
been grinding her teeth at night. Lisa was pretty sure his insistence that she be fitted with a
mouth guard had more to do with upgrading his Audi than her pummeling her teeth to powder.
Lisa “teamed” the mouth guard with a pair of ear plugs—Jake’s snoring wasn’t getting any
quieter. She’d put them in the night before out of habit—and to assure herself nothing was going
to change.
She quietly fished out the mouth guard and earplugs and slid them into their boxes. Then she
rolled over and reached for the familiar shape of Jake’s head. But his pillow was as vacant as the
wastelands of Antarctica. Lisa curled up in the fetal position and sobbed into her pillow—
quietly, so as not to disturb Maxine and Gordon or the kids. It was her favorite pillow, so old it
probably harbored superbugs. She’d tried to throw it out, but always stopped at the garbage chute
and carried it back to bed. Stuffed with meager lumps of feathers and down, it was anorexic
compared to Jake’s anti-snoring plank. But it was a forgiving object, snuggling into the folds of
her face without any attempt to improve her posture. Now tears drained into the feathers,
reducing them to a soggy swamp.
When she could cry no more, she rolled on her back and ran her hand over the chasm her left
breast had once inhabited. The surgeon had offered her reconstruction at the same time as the
mastectomy. He said the mastectomy itself would take only forty minutes to perform, while the
reconstruction would drag on for seven hours or more. After hours trawling the Internet and
talking with friends who knew people who’d had reconstructions and those who hadn’t, she’d
decided to bide her time. It wouldn’t be long before you could take a pill to grow a new breast.
Giving an excellent impersonation of a supportive husband, Jake had said he was happy to go
along with whatever she wanted. She’d felt a surge of affection when he said appearances made
no difference to him. And anyway, the surgeon had assured them she could have the
reconstruction further down the track. She’d still not gotten around to it and now doubted she
ever would. After all, Lisa had never been burdened with vanity. Her mother, Ruby, had made
sure of that. (“Tidy yourself up, Lisa. . . . Cut back on the pastries, girl. They’ll be calling you
thunder thighs. . . . Run a comb through your hair!”) The scar ran in a horizontal line across her

11

torso like a ruler marking the end of a school essay.
Though Jake had claimed it didn’t worry him, he’d never expressed interest in or even
curiosity about her wound. During lovemaking, he’d lavished attention on her right breast,
stroking and kissing (never sucking, because that would set her on a postcoital jag about the
pathetic idea of grown men sucking breasts). He’d avoided her left side as if it were an
abandoned neighborhood turned dangerous.
She couldn’t believe how he’d lulled her into thinking their marriage was fine. For all his
talk, he was just another primitively wired male who wanted a woman with two C cups. Clearly
Jake was going through some kind of man-opause. Surely it would just be a matter of time before
he’d come to his senses and beg to come back.
A vacuum cleaner hummed on the other side of Lisa’s bedroom door. The thought of facing
up to her guests was almost unbearable. Still, how often did she get the chance to see her kids?
So after showering and dressing, she padded out into the living room.
Maxine was hoovering up the previous night’s wreckage. Ted was in the kitchen, wrangling a
garbage bag. They both stopped and looked up at her as if she were a piece of crystal that might
shatter at the slightest movement.
Gordon emerged from the guest room to fiddle with the coffee machine while Maxine
assailed her bedroom with the vacuum cleaner. Lisa offered to help, but Maxine insisted she sit
down and relax.
The black leather sofa squeaked as Lisa flopped onto it. The buttons dug into her backside.
Everything about the apartment reeked of Jake. He used to go along with her love of what she
called “soul objects.” New Guinea masks and paint-peeled Buddhas took her back to the freedom
of her traveling days. All that had changed when he started taking banking seriously and Jake
readjusted his tastes. In the end it had been simpler to let him move “her stuff” into her study and
succumb to his obsession with “clean lines.” Now glass tabletops and piles of yachting
magazines lent the apartment the air of a medical waiting room.
Lisa ran her eye over Jake’s collection of second-tier Fauvists. Given the choice, she’d have
preferred Ted and Portia’s kindergarten daubs. Life-sized stainless-steel nudes stood in a corner,
entwined in an outlandish position the sculptor had called the Lustful Leg. She’d tried to
replicate the posture for Jake’s pleasure a couple of times. Flinging her leg back over her
shoulder had, however, made something in her hip lock in a sharp spasm of agony. As for the
white baby grand piano that only Ted knew how to play, she pretended it wasn’t there.

12
She wondered how she’d let herself slide into such an unlikely setting. Had she been too
engrossed with the children, or working too much? She remembered feeling tired a lot of the
time, perhaps even borderline depressed. She was a terrible banker’s wife, anyway. Her hair
wasn’t blond-bobbish enough, her laugh too deep and brazen.
The coffee machine hissed and farted, enveloping Gordon in a cloud of steam. It was Jake’s
pride and joy, though it had never produced a decent cappuccino in its life. Gordon presented her
with a pool of muddy liquid inside a mug emblazoned with a malevolent snowman. Happy
Holidays curled in red letters around the rim. The mug usually lurked at the back of the top shelf.
Christmas was more than two months away. Proof the dishwasher needed emptying.
To fill vacant air space, Gordon asked how her writing was going. Did people ask plumbers
about their drains? Part One of her Brontë trilogy was selling okay, but she’d sunk into a boggy
patch with Three Sisters: Emily, which was still not much more than a list of bullet points. She’d
been a fool to sign a contract promising to have the manuscript in by March, and now the
deadline was approaching with the menace of an asteroid about to collide with Earth.
Portia emerged ashen, her pale hair a mass of tangles. Lisa ached to scoop it into a tidy
French plait the way she used to when Portia was six. Her own mother would’ve had no qualms
about assailing her adult daughter with a comb. Lisa curled her fingers into fists. Every
generation has to be an improvement on the last. If she was going to learn anything from Ruby’s
mistakes, it was to control the French-plait compulsion.
Maxine put on a pair of wooden earrings the size of Samoa and a gold vinyl jacket (“You
New Yorkers call this autumn?” Ted reminded her the correct term was fall). Then she spread a
map of Manhattan over the piano lid.
Lisa knew what Maxine was up to. When they were little girls lying awake at night listening
to their parents yelling down the hall, Maxine would play “Let’s Pretend Nothing’s Happening.”
As their mother’s voice rose to a series of barks through the walls, Maxine would become a
princess, or Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Lisa had to be the princess’s servant, of course. Or the
Scarecrow.
Tight-lipped with denial, Maxine set about organizing everyone’s day. The girls would go on
a retail-therapy binge while the boys walked the Brooklyn Bridge.
Gordon’s face rose like the red planet from behind the coffee machine. He wasn’t sure he’d
brought the right shoes. Maxine patted his wine gut and assured him she’d packed his trainers.

13

After a mind-numbing morning traipsing through shops, the three women stopped at a French
bakery. Before sinking her teeth into a croissant, Maxine offered to cancel the cruise so she and
Gordon could stay on and “provide support.” Lisa smiled at the image of Maxine as a giant
brassiere.
When Lisa declined, Maxine’s relief was palpable. “I talked to Ted this morning,” she
continued, dabbing her lips. “He’s willing to change his flights and keep you company for a
week or two.”
Lisa felt like a starving bear presented with a plate of meat. To have Ted all to herself would
be . . . But his exams!
“Never mind. I’ll be fine,” she said, patting her daughter’s knee.
Portia stood up and flounced to the Ladies’. Heads turned as the gaunt goddess wafted past in
a trail of golden hair. Lisa checked the menu for the number of calories in the three dandelion
leaves Portia had chomped through (approximately seventeen). It was hard to imagine what was
going through the child’s brain. Maybe she was traumatized by her parents’ behavior.
“Don’t worry about that one,” Maxine said, sinking her fork into a perfectly formed
strawberry tart.
Lisa guessed from Maxine’s tone that Portia had refused the opportunity to linger in New
York to bathe her mother’s wounds. Maybe through some distorted logic Portia had decided to
side with Jake.
An unwelcome image of Jake sprang into Lisa’s head. He was running his hands over Cow
Belle’s buttocks while he licked her pointy Chrysler Building nipples. His hand drifted to the
mound between Cow Belle’s legs, waxed bald as a newborn’s. Jake had texted Portia saying that
he was moving into a hotel, but everyone knew he was in that woman’s Chelsea apartment
asphyxiating himself between her legs.
Exhaustion washed over Lisa. She was desperate to go home, but Maxine had other ideas.
With the compassion of a slave-ship captain, she urged them on to the Empire State Building and
then to see the skaters at the Rockefeller Center.
When the family finally reassembled at the apartment, Lisa imagined Jake and Cow Belle
knee to knee in a darkened restaurant. He’d be ordering champagne, the real French stuff. His
hand would be gliding up Belle’s thigh.

14
While Maxine corralled Gordon into the guest room to help squeeze Macy’s shopping bags
into their already overstuffed suitcases, Ted and Portia sat on the sofa like a pair of orphans.
Portia wound her hair around her fingers and crossed her skinny legs. Someone, or thing, had
taken a razor to her black jeans and slashed them to pieces. Ted made urgent little stabs at his
phone.
“So when will I be seeing you two again?” Lisa asked in as breezy a tone as she could
muster.
Portia picked at a thread dangling from one of the slashes in her pants. “I’ve got to get home
to LA,” she said.
LA was home?
“We’ve set up a theater group,” Portia continued. “We’re writing a play. They really need
me.”
And Lisa didn’t? “What about Thanksgiving?” she asked.
“That’s close to opening night.” Portia whined. “I thought this visit could double as
Thanksgiving.”
Thanks a bundle, thought Lisa. She turned to Ted. “So I’ll keep the spare room for you next
year?”
Ted’s dark hair draped over his forehead. She’d seen a photo of her father around the same
age, and, with his long face and soulful eyes, Ted was almost an exact replica—apart from the
darker coloring. The corner of his mouth twitched. “Actually, I’m thinking of staying on in
Australia,” he said.
A concrete ball settled in Lisa’s stomach. “Oh. I guess you’ll want to fit in a month or two’s
surfing before you come back,” she said.
Ted let his phone tumble nonchalantly out of his hand. The brown checks in his shirt brought
out the color of his eyes. “I’ve had a job offer,” he said.
“You mean you’re going to stay on selling mushroom burgers at the market?”
Ted shook his head and smiled. “It’s an architecture firm. They like my environmental
approach.”
He was staying in Australia? “That’s great,” Lisa lied. She wanted to weep at the thought of
Ted stranded indefinitely on the other side of the world. Still, it was hard enough for graduates to
find work anywhere these days. “You’ll be based in Melbourne?”
Ted nodded, his color deepening. Lisa sensed something else going on. For all her

15

disappointment about his decision to stay in Australia, her interest was piqued.

The next morning, Lisa’s guests stood hunched against the cold, their bags scattered on the
sidewalk while she tried to hail a cab. Pedro the doorman had seemed disappointed when she
turned down his offer to do it. No doubt he would’ve been quicker at catching a driver’s eye, but
her Australian upbringing still left her uncomfortable when people performed menial tasks on
her behalf. Cab after cab sailed past. They were either busy or ignoring her.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” Portia said when one finally pulled in. “I was the only one in my
friendship group whose parents were still together. We’re normal now.” Portia always spoke of
her “friendship group” with worshipful respect.
“Look after yourself,” Lisa said, fighting the urge to pull Portia to her chest and never let go.
Portia flicked her hair and slid into the back of the cab with the effortless ease of youth. The
child-woman hadn’t heard a thing. White wires in her ears sealed her off in her own world.
Inside her head Portia was already back among the hipsters of Venice Beach.
Maxine rested her hands on Lisa’s shoulders and planted a kiss on each cheek. “You take
care,” she said in a big-sisterly tone before climbing into the front seat next to the driver.
Gordon flashed Lisa an awkward smile. He was limping from yesterday’s walk. Brooklyn
Bridge had turned out to be longer than it looked. Leaning forward, he aimed his lips at Lisa’s
cheek but collided with her chin. Blushing, he retreated into the shadows of the backseat.
Saying good-bye to Ted made Lisa’s heart fray around the edges. She and he were carved
from the same stone. They both had to fight the Trumperton tendency to sink into moroseness.
They laughed at the same things and would finish each other’s sentences. Australia was too far
away. “See you at Christmas?” she asked, trying to eradicate hints of neediness.
“Sure. Come visit,” he replied. “You can sleep on our sofa.”
“Thanks, but the CIA should hire that thing out as an instrument of torture.” So if she had
any hope of seeing him in December she’d be the one climbing on a plane.
She kissed Ted and nudged him into the back of the cab next to Gordon.
Maxine’s window glided down. She fixed Lisa with an emerald gaze. “I never liked that
prick,” she said.
As the cab dissolved into the traffic, Lisa caught a glimpse of Ted’s profile in the shadows of
the backseat. The unmistakable Trumperton nose. Gulping a buttery lump at the back of her

16

throat, she waved good-bye.
Back in the apartment, Lisa was sucked into a vacuum of loneliness. She turned James
Taylor up loud and plunged into a frenzy of housework. The kids had left her study a mess. She
dredged one of Ted’s socks out from under the sofa bed. For once it was hole-free. Someone was
looking after him. As usual, Portia had stolen Lisa’s shampoo and conditioner from the
bathroom. Lisa wrote it off as a contribution to the starving artist of the family.
Once her study was looking half-civilized, she switched on her computer. The bullet points
about Three Sisters: Emily glowered back at her. She had no hope of writing an entire book in
four months. The first sentence was always the hardest. Her fingers hovered over the keyboard.
Then, in a cruel twist of what Portia would call irony, a deliveryman arrived with a sheath of
freshly ironed shirts. Lisa didn’t have the energy to refuse them. Instead, she carried them
numbly to the bedroom. As she hung the shirts in Jake’s side of the closet, she wondered whether
they might herald his return. Perhaps he’d realized he’d made a terrible mistake, that he loved
Lisa and wanted to come home. He’d promise to never see Cow Belle again.
She dug her phone out of her handbag. “Yr shirts r here,” she typed, her fingers trembling.
She made a mug of coffee. James Taylor crooned “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You.)”
He’d moved on to “Fire and Rain” by the time her phone buzzed to life. “Thx. Will come over.”
Sure enough, toward evening there was a tap on the door. Lisa opened it a crack. Jake peered
through like a naughty schoolboy. Why was he knocking when he had a key? They examined
each other in silence. Lisa would take him back after a decent interval of punishment, of course.
They had too much shared history.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “My shirts.”
“Oh,” she said, blood draining from her face.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Of course.” Her voice was as cold as a surgeon’s blade. “Just a minute.” She left him
fidgeting in the doorway while she collected the sheath.
“Let me know if you need anything,” he said as she handed it to him.
What could she possibly need?
His forefinger was turning purple from the coat-hanger hooks cutting off the circulation.
Lisa knew what he wanted. If she exploded with rage again he could scurry away, confident
she was a total witch. But she couldn’t do it.
Instead, she watched as the boiled egg of his bald patch disappeared down the hall toward the

17

elevator. She noticed a white thread on his shoulder. Jake had a neurotic loathing of
imperfection, and she was about to call after him. But that wasn’t her job. Not anymore. All Jake
maintenance was over to Cow Belle. She could trim his ear hair, too.
The elevator doors sighed shut.
Lisa was officially and permanently alone.

Effia

the night effia otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland,
a fire raged through the woods just outside her father’s compound. It
moved quickly, tearing a path for days. It lived off the air; it slept in
caves and hid in trees; it burned, up and through, unconcerned with
what wreckage it left behind, until it reached an Asante village. There,
it disappeared, becoming one with the night.
Effia’s father, Cobbe Otcher, left his first wife, Baaba, with the new
baby so that he might survey the damage to his yams, that most precious crop known far and wide to sustain families. Cobbe had lost
seven yams, and he felt each loss as a blow to his own family. He knew
then that the memory of the fire that burned, then fled, would haunt
him, his children, and his children’s children for as long as the line
continued. When he came back into Baaba’s hut to find Effia, the child
of the night’s fire, shrieking into the air, he looked at his wife and said,
“We will never again speak of what happened today.”
The villagers began to say that the baby was born of the fire, that
this was the reason Baaba had no milk. Effia was nursed by Cobbe’s
second wife, who had just given birth to a son three months before.
Effia would not latch on, and when she did, her sharp gums would
tear at the flesh around the woman’s nipples until she became afraid to
feed the baby. Because of this, Effia grew thinner, skin on small birdlike bones, with a large black hole of a mouth that expelled a hungry cry

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 3

1/25/16 12:18 PM

homegoing

which could be heard throughout the village, even on the days Baaba
did her best to smother it, covering the baby’s lips with the rough palm
of her left hand.
“Love her,” Cobbe commanded, as though love were as simple an
act as lifting food up from an iron plate and past one’s lips. At night,
Baaba dreamed of leaving the baby in the dark forest so that the god
Nyame could do with her as he pleased.
Effia grew older. The summer after her third birthday, Baaba had
her first son. The boy’s name was Fiifi, and he was so fat that sometimes, when Baaba wasn’t looking, Effia would roll him along the
ground like a ball. The first day that Baaba let Effia hold him, she accidentally dropped him. The baby bounced on his buttocks, landed on
his stomach, and looked up at everyone in the room, confused as to
whether or not he should cry. He decided against it, but Baaba, who
had been stirring banku, lifted her stirring stick and beat Effia across
her bare back. Each time the stick lifted off the girl’s body, it would
leave behind hot, sticky pieces of banku that burned into her flesh. By
the time Baaba had finished, Effia was covered with sores, screaming
and crying. From the floor, rolling this way and that on his belly, Fiifi
looked at Effia with his saucer eyes but made no noise.
Cobbe came home to find his other wives attending to Effia’s
wounds and understood immediately what had happened. He and
Baaba fought well into the night. Effia could hear them through the
thin walls of the hut where she lay on the floor, drifting in and out of
a feverish sleep. In her dream, Cobbe was a lion and Baaba was a tree.
The lion plucked the tree from the ground where it stood and slammed
it back down. The tree stretched its branches in protest, and the lion
ripped them off, one by one. The tree, horizontal, began to cry red ants
that traveled down the thin cracks between its bark. The ants pooled on
the soft earth around the top of the tree trunk.
And so the cycle began. Baaba beat Effia. Cobbe beat Baaba. By the
time Effia had reached age ten, she could recite a history of the scars
on her body. The summer of 1764, when Baaba broke yams across
her back. The spring of 1767, when Baaba bashed her left foot with a
rock, breaking her big toe so that it now always pointed away from the

4

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 4

1/25/16 12:18 PM

Effia

other toes. For each scar on Effia’s body, there was a companion scar
on Baaba’s, but that didn’t stop mother from beating daughter, father
from beating mother.
Matters were only made worse by Effia’s blossoming beauty. When
she was twelve, her breasts arrived, two lumps that sprung from her
chest, as soft as mango flesh. The men of the village knew that first
blood would soon follow, and they waited for the chance to ask Baaba
and Cobbe for her hand. The gifts started. One man tapped palm wine
better than anyone else in the village, but another’s fishing nets were
never empty. Cobbe’s family feasted off Effia’s burgeoning womanhood. Their bellies, their hands, were never empty.

In 1775, Adwoa Aidoo became the first girl of the village to be proposed
to by one of the British soldiers. She was light-­skinned and sharp-­
tongued. In the mornings, after she had bathed, she rubbed shea butter all over her body, underneath her breasts and between her legs.
Effia didn’t know her well, but she had seen her naked one day when
Baaba sent her to carry palm oil to the girl’s hut. Her skin was slick and
shiny, her hair regal.
The first time the white man came, Adwoa’s mother asked Effia’s
parents to show him around the village while Adwoa prepared herself
for him.
“Can I come?” Effia asked, running after her parents as they
walked. She heard Baaba’s “no” in one ear and Cobbe’s “yes” in the
other. Her father’s ear won, and soon Effia was standing before the first
white man she had ever seen.
“He is happy to meet you,” the translator said as the white man
held his hand out to Effia. She didn’t accept it. Instead, she hid behind
her father’s leg and watched him.
He wore a coat that had shiny gold buttons down the middle; it
strained against his paunch. His face was red, as though his neck were
a stump on fire. He was fat all over and sweating huge droplets from
his forehead and above his bare lips. Effia started to think of him as a
rain cloud: sallow and wet and shapeless.

5

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 5

1/25/16 12:18 PM

homegoing

“Please, he would like to see the village,” the translator said, and
they all began to walk.
They stopped first by Effia’s own compound. “This is where we
live,” Effia told the white man, and he smiled at her dumbly, his green
eyes hidden in fog.
He didn’t understand. Even after his translator spoke to him, he
didn’t understand.
Cobbe held Effia’s hand as he and Baaba led the white man through
the compound. “Here, in this village,” Cobbe said, “each wife has her
own hut. This is the hut she shares with her children. When it is her
husband’s night to be with her, he goes to her in her hut.”
The white man’s eyes grew clearer as the translation was given, and
suddenly Effia realized that he was seeing through new eyes. The mud
of her hut’s walls, the straw of the roof, he could finally see them.
They continued on through the village, showing the white man the
town square, the small fishing boats formed from hollowed-­out tree
trunks that the men carried with them when they walked the few miles
down to the coast. Effia forced herself to see things through new eyes,
too. She smelled the sea-­salt wind as it touched the hairs in her nose,
felt the bark of a palm tree as sharp as a scratch, saw the deep, deep red
of the clay that was all around them.
“Baaba,” Effia asked once the men had walked farther ahead of
them, “why will Adwoa marry this man?”
“Because her mother says so.”
A few weeks later, the white man came back to pay respects
to Adwoa’s mother, and Effia and all of the other villagers gathered
around to see what he would offer. There was the bride price of fifteen
pounds. There were goods he’d brought with him from the Castle, carried on the backs of Asantes. Cobbe made Effia stand behind him as
they watched the servants come in with fabric, millet, gold, and iron.
When they walked back to their compound, Cobbe pulled Effia
aside, letting his wives and other children walk in front of them.
“Do you understand what just happened?” he asked her. In the
distance, Baaba slipped her hand into Fiifi’s. Effia’s brother had just
turned eleven, but he could already climb up the trunk of a palm tree
using nothing but his bare hands and feet for support.
6

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 6

1/25/16 12:18 PM

Effia

“The white man came to take Adwoa away,” Effia said.
Her father nodded. “The white men live in the Cape Coast Castle.
There, they trade goods with our people.”
“Like iron and millet?”
Her father put his hand on her shoulder and kissed the top of her
forehead, but when he pulled away the look in his eyes was troubled
and distant. “Yes, we get iron and millet, but we must give them things
in return. That man came from Cape Coast to marry Adwoa, and there
will be more like him who will come and take our daughters away. But
you, my own, I have bigger plans for you than to live as a white man’s
wife. You will marry a man of our village.”
Baaba turned around just then, and Effia caught her eyes. Baaba
scowled. Effia looked at her father to see if he had noticed, but Cobbe
did not say a word.
Effia knew who her choice for husband would be, and she dearly
hoped her parents would choose the same man. Abeeku Badu was
next in line to be the village chief. He was tall, with skin like the pit of
an avocado and large hands with long, slender fingers that he waved
around like lightning bolts every time he spoke. He had visited their
compound four times in the last month, and later that week, he and
Effia were to share a meal together.

Abeeku brought a goat. His servants carried yams and fish and palm
wine. Baaba and the other wives stoked their fires and heated the oil.
The air smelled rich.
That morning, Baaba had plaited Effia’s hair. Two long braids on
either side of her center part. They made her look like a ram, strong,
willful. Effia had oiled her naked body and put gold in her ears. She
sat across from Abeeku as they ate, pleased as he stole appreciative
glances.
“Were you at Adwoa’s ceremony?” Baaba asked once all of the men
had been served and the women finally began to eat.
“Yes, I was there, but only briefly. It is a shame Adwoa will be leaving the village. She would have made a good wife.”
“Will you work for the British when you become chief?” Effia asked.
7

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 7

1/25/16 12:18 PM

homegoing

Cobbe and Baaba sent her sharp looks, and she lowered her head, but
she lifted it to find Abeeku smiling.
“We work with the British, Effia, not for them. That is the meaning of trade. When I am chief, we will continue as we have, facilitating
trade with the Asantes and the British.”
Effia nodded. She wasn’t exactly sure what this meant, but she
could tell from her parents’ looks that it was best to keep her mouth
shut. Abeeku Badu was the first man they had brought to meet her.
Effia wanted desperately for him to want her, but she did not yet know
what kind of man he was, what kind of woman he required. In her hut,
Effia could ask her father and Fiifi anything she wanted. It was Baaba
who practiced silence and preferred the same from Effia, Baaba who
had slapped her for asking why she did not take her to be blessed as
all the other mothers did for their daughters. It was only when Effia
didn’t speak or question, when she made herself small, that she could
feel Baaba’s love, or something like it. Maybe this was what Abeeku
wanted too.
Abeeku finished eating. He shook hands with everyone in the family, and stopped by Effia’s mother. “You will let me know when she is
ready,” he said.
Baaba clutched a hand to her chest and nodded soberly. Cobbe and
the other men saw Abeeku off as the rest of the family waved.
That night, Baaba woke Effia up while she was sleeping on the
floor of their hut. Effia felt the warmth of her mother’s breath against
her ear as she spoke. “When your blood comes, Effia, you must hide it.
You must tell me and no one else,” she said. “Do you understand?” She
handed Effia palm fronds that she had turned into soft, rolled sheets.
“Place these inside of you, and check them every day. When they turn
red, you must tell me.”
Effia looked at the palm fronds, held in Baaba’s outstretched hands.
She didn’t take them at first, but when she looked up again there was
something like desperation in her mother’s eyes. And because the
look had softened Baaba’s face somehow, and because Effia also knew
desperation, that fruit of longing, she did as she was told. Every day,
Effia checked for red, but the palm fronds came out greenish-­white

8

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 8

1/25/16 12:18 PM

Effia

as always. In the spring, the chief of the village grew ill, and everyone
watched Abeeku carefully to see if he was ready for the task. He married two women in those months, Arekua the Wise, and Millicent, the
half-­caste daughter of a Fante woman and a British soldier. The soldier
had died from fever, leaving his wife and two children much wealth
to do with as they pleased. Effia prayed for the day all of the villagers
would call her Effia the Beauty, as Abeeku called her on the rare occasions when he was permitted to speak to her.
Millicent’s mother had been given a new name by her white husband. She was a plump, fleshy woman with teeth that twinkled against
the dark night of her skin. She had decided to move out of the Castle
and into the village once her husband died. Because the white men
could not leave money in their wills to their Fante wives and children,
they left it to other soldiers and friends, and those friends paid the
wives. Millicent’s mother had been given enough money for a new start
and a piece of land. She and Millicent would often come visit Effia and
Baaba, for, as she said, they would soon be a part of the same family.
Millicent was the lightest-­skinned woman Effia had ever seen. Her
black hair reached down to the middle of her back and her eyes were
tinged with green. She rarely smiled, and she spoke with a husky voice
and a strange Fante accent.
“What was it like in the Castle?” Baaba asked Millicent’s mother
one day while the four women were sitting to a snack of groundnuts
and bananas.
“It was fine, fine. They take care of you, oh, these men! It is like
they have never been with a woman before. I don’t know what their
British wives were doing. I tell you, my husband looked at me like I was
water and he was fire, and every night he had to be put out.”
The women laughed. Millicent slipped Effia a smile, and Effia
wanted to ask her what it was like with Abeeku, but she did not dare.
Baaba leaned in close to Millicent’s mother, but still Effia could
hear, “And they pay a good bride price, eh?”
“Enh, I tell you, my husband paid my mother ten pounds, and that
was fifteen years ago! To be sure, my sister, the money is good, but I for
one am glad my daughter has married a Fante. Even if a soldier offered

9

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 9

1/25/16 12:18 PM

homegoing

to pay twenty pounds, she would not get to be the wife of a chief. And
what’s worse, she would have to live in the Castle, far from me. No, no,
it is better to marry a man of the village so that your daughters can stay
close to you.”
Baaba nodded and turned toward Effia, who quickly looked away.
That night, just two days after her fifteenth birthday, the blood
came. It was not the powerful rush of the ocean waves that Effia had
expected it to be, but rather a simple trickle, rain dripping, drop by
drop, from the same spot of a hut’s roof. She cleaned herself off and
waited for her father to leave Baaba so that she could tell her.
“Baaba,” she said, showing her the palm fronds painted red. “I
have gotten my blood.”
Baaba placed a hand over her lips. “Who else knows?”
“No one,” Effia said.
“You will keep it that way. Do you understand? When anyone asks
you if you have become a woman yet, you will answer no.”
Effia nodded. She turned to leave, but a question was burning hot
coals in the pit of her stomach. “Why?” she finally asked.
Baaba reached into Effia’s mouth and pulled out her tongue, pinching the tip with her sharp fingernails. “Who are you that you think you
can question me, enh? If you do not do as I say, I will make sure you
never speak again.” She released Effia’s tongue, and for the rest of the
night, Effia tasted her own blood.

The next week, the old chief died. The funeral announcements went
out to all of the surrounding villages. The proceedings would last a
month and end with Abeeku’s chief ceremony. The women of the village prepared food from sunrise to sunset; drums were made out of the
finest wood, and the best singers were called upon to raise their voices.
The funeral attendants began dancing on the fourth day of the rainy
season, and they did not rest their feet until the ground had completely
dried.
At the end of the first dry night Abeeku was crowned Omanhin,
chief of the Fante village. He was dressed in rich fabrics, his two wives

10

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 10

1/25/16 12:18 PM

Effia

on either side of him. Effia and Baaba stood next to each other as they
watched, and Cobbe paced the crowd. Every so often, Effia could hear
him muttering that she, his daughter, the most beautiful woman in the
village, should be up there too.
As the new chief, Abeeku wanted to do something big, something
that would bring attention to their village and make them a force to
be reckoned with. After only three days in office, he gathered up all
of the men of the village to his compound. He fed them for two days
straight, got them drunk on palm wine until their boisterous laughing
and impassioned shouting could be heard from every hut.
“What will they do?” Effia asked.
“That does not concern you,” Baaba said.
In the two months since Effia had begun to bleed, Baaba had
stopped beating her. Payment for her silence. Some days, when they
were preparing meals for the men, or when Effia would bring back
the water she had fetched and watch Baaba dip in with cupped hands,
she would think they were finally behaving as mothers and daughters
were supposed to behave. But then, other days, the long scowl would
return to Baaba’s face, and Effia would see that her mother’s new quiet
was only temporary, her rage a wild beast that had been tamed for the
moment.
Cobbe came back from the meeting with a long machete. The
handle was gold with carvings of letters that no one understood. He
was so drunk that all of his wives and children stood around him in
a circle, at a distance of two feet, while he shuffled about, jabbing the
sharp instrument this way and that. “We will make the village rich with
blood!” he screamed. He lunged at Fiifi, who had wandered into the
circle, and the boy, leaner and quicker than he had been in his days as
a fat baby, swiveled his hips, missing the tip of the machete by only a
few inches.
Fiifi had been the youngest one at the meeting. Everyone knew he
would make a fine warrior. They could see it in the way he climbed the
palm trees. In the way he wore his silence like a golden crown.
After her father left and Effia was certain that their mother had
gone to sleep, she crawled over to Fiifi.

11

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 11

1/25/16 12:18 PM

homegoing

“Wake up,” she hissed, and he pushed her away. Even in half sleep
he was stronger than she was. She fell backward but, with the grace of
a cat, flipped back onto her feet. “Wake up,” she said again.
Fiifi’s eyes flashed open. “Don’t worry me, big sister,” he said.
“What will happen?” she asked.
“It’s the business of men,” Fiifi said.
“You are not yet a man,” Effia said.
“And you are not yet a woman,” Fiifi snapped back. “Otherwise you
would have been there with Abeeku this very evening as his wife.”
Effia’s lips began to quiver. She turned to go back to her side of
the hut, but Fiifi caught her arm. “We are helping the British and the
Asantes with their trade.”
“Oh,” Effia said. It was the same story she had heard from her
father and Abeeku just a few months before. “You mean we will give
Asante gold and fabric to the white men?”
Fiifi clutched her tighter. “Don’t be stupid,” he said. “Abeeku has
made an alliance with one of the most powerful Asante villages. We
will help them sell their slaves to the British.”
And so, the white man came to their village. Fat or skinny, red or
tanned. They came in uniform, with swords at their sides, their eyes
looking sideways, always and ever cautious. They came to approve of
the goods Abeeku had promised them.
In the days following the chief ceremony, Cobbe had grown nervous about the broken promise of Effia’s womanhood, nervous that
Abeeku would forget her in favor of one of the other women in the
village. He had always said that he wanted his daughter to be the first,
most important wife, but now even third seemed like a distant hope.
Every day he would ask Baaba what was happening with Effia, and
every day Baaba would reply that she was not yet ready. In desperation,
he decided to allow his daughter to go over to Abeeku’s compound with
Baaba once a week, so that the man could see her and remember how
much he had once loved her face and figure.
Arekua the Wise, the first of Abeeku’s wives, greeted them as they
came in one evening. “Please, Mama,” she said to Baaba. “We weren’t
expecting you tonight. The white men are here.”

12

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 12

1/25/16 12:18 PM

Effia

“We can go,” Effia said, but Baaba clutched her arm.
“If you don’t mind, we would like to stay,” Baaba said. Arekua gave
her a strange look. “My husband will be angry if we come back too
early,” Baaba said, as if that were enough of an explanation. Effia knew
that she was lying. Cobbe had not sent them there that night. It was
Baaba who had heard that the white men would be there and insisted
that they go pay respects. Arekua took pity and left to ask Abeeku if the
two of them might stay.
“You will eat with the women, and if the men come in, you will
not speak,” she said once she had returned. She led them deeper into
the compound. Effia watched hut after hut pass by until they entered
the one where the wives had gathered to eat. She sat next to Millicent,
whose pregnant belly had begun to show, no bigger than a coconut,
slung low. Arekua had prepared fish in palm oil stew, and they dug in
until their fingers were stained orange.
Soon, a maidservant Effia had not noticed before came into the
room. She was a tiny girl, only a child, whose eyes never lifted from
the ground.
“Please, Mama,” she said to Arekua. “The white men would like to
tour the compound. Chief Abeeku says you are to make sure you are
presentable for them.”
“Go and fetch us water, quick,” Millicent said, and when the servant came back with a bucket full of water, they all washed their hands
and lips. Effia tidied her hair, licking her palms and rubbing her fingers
along the tight baby curls that lined her edges. When she finished,
Baaba had her stand between Millicent and Arekua, in front of the
other women, and Effia tried her best to seem smaller so as not to draw
attention to herself.
Before long the men came in. Abeeku looked as a chief should
look, Effia thought, strong and powerful, like he could lift ten women
above his head and toward the sun. Two white men came in behind
him. There was one who Effia thought must be the chief of the white
men because of the way the other glanced at him before he moved or
spoke. This white chief wore the same clothes as the rest of them wore,
but there were more shiny golden buttons running along his coat and

13

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 13

1/25/16 12:18 PM

homegoing

on the flaps above his shoulders. He seemed older than Abeeku, his
dark brown hair flecked with gray, but he stood up straight, as a leader
should stand.
“These are the women. My wives and children, their mothers and
daughters,” Abeeku said. The smaller, more timid white man watched
him carefully as he said this and then turned to the white chief and
spoke their strange tongue. The white chief nodded and smiled at all
of them, looking carefully at each woman and saying hello in his poor
Fante.
When his “hello” reached Effia, she couldn’t help but giggle. The
other women shushed her, and embarrassment like heat began to
move into her cheeks.
“I’m still learning,” the white chief said, resting his eyes on Effia,
his Fante an ugly sound in her ears. He held her gaze for what seemed
like minutes, and Effia felt her skin grow even hotter as the look in his
eyes turned into something more wanton. The dark brown circles of
his pupils looked like large pots that toddlers could drown in, and he
looked at Effia just like that, as though he wanted to keep her there, in
his drowning eyes. Color quickly flooded into his cheeks. He turned to
the other white man and spoke.
“No, she is not my wife,” Abeeku said after the man had translated for him, his voice not bothering to hide his annoyance. Effia hung
her head, embarrassed that she had done something to cause Abeeku
shame, embarrassed he could not call her wife. Embarrassed, too, that
he had not called her by name: Effia the Beauty. She wanted desperately then to break her promise to Baaba and announce herself as the
woman she was, but before she could speak, the men walked away, and
her nerve faded as the white chief looked over his shoulder at her and
smiled.

His name was James Collins, and he was the newly appointed governor of the Cape Coast Castle. Within a week, he had come back to the
village to ask Baaba for Effia’s hand in marriage. Cobbe’s rage at the
proposal filled every room like hot steam.

14

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 14

1/25/16 12:18 PM

Effia

“She is all but promised to Abeeku!” he yelled at Baaba when Baaba
told him that she was considering the offer.
“Yes, but Abeeku cannot marry her until her blood comes, and
we have been waiting years now. I tell you, husband, I think she was
cursed in that fire, a demon who will never become a woman. Think
about it. What creature is that beautiful but cannot be touched? All of
the signs of womanhood are there, and yet, still, nothing. The white
man will marry her regardless. He does not know what she is.”
Effia had heard the white man talking to her mother earlier that
day. He would pay thirty pounds up front and twenty-­five shillings a
month in tradable goods to Baaba as bride gift. More than even Abeeku
could offer, more than had been offered for any other Fante woman in
this village or the next.
Effia could hear her father pacing all throughout the evening. She
even awoke the next morning to that same sound, the steady rhythm of
his feet on the hard clay earth.
“We must make Abeeku think it was his idea,” he finally said.
And so, the chief was called to their compound. He sat beside
Cobbe as Baaba told him her theory, that the fire that had destroyed so
much of their family’s worth had also destroyed the child.
“She has the body of a woman, but something evil lurks in her
spirit,” Baaba said, spitting on the ground for emphasis. “If you marry
her she will never bear you children. If the white man marries her, he
will think of this village fondly, and your trade will prosper from it.”
Abeeku rubbed his beard carefully as he thought about it. “Bring
the Beauty to me,” he said finally. Cobbe’s second wife brought Effia
into the room. She was trembling and her stomach pained her so
much that she thought she might empty her bowels right there in front
of everyone.
Abeeku stood up so that he was facing her. He ran his fingers
along the full landscape of her face, the hills of her cheeks, the caves of
her nostrils. “A more beautiful woman has never been born,” he said
finally. He turned to Baaba. “But I see that you are right. If the white
man wants her, he may have her. All the better for our business with
them. All the better for the village.”

15

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 15

1/25/16 12:18 PM

homegoing

Cobbe, big, strong man that he was, began to weep openly, but
Baaba stood tall. She walked over to Effia after Abeeku had left and
pulled out a black stone pendant that shimmered as though it had been
coated in gold dust.
She slipped it into Effia’s hands and then leaned into her until her
lips were touching Effia’s ear. “Take this with you when you go,” Baaba
said. “A piece of your mother.”
And when Baaba finally pulled away, Effia could see something like
relief dancing behind her smile.
*

Effia had passed by the Cape Coast Castle only once, when she and
Baaba ventured out of their village and into the city, but she had never
been in it before the day of her wedding. There was a chapel on the
ground level, and she and James Collins were married by a clergyman
who had asked Effia to repeat words she didn’t mean in a language she
didn’t understand. There was no dancing, no feasting, no bright colors, slicked hair, or old ladies with wrinkled and bare breasts throwing
coins and waving handkerchiefs. Not even Effia’s family had come, for
after Baaba had convinced them all that the girl was a bad omen, no
one wanted anything to do with her. The morning she left for the Castle, Cobbe had kissed the top of her head and waved her away, knowing
that the premonition of the dissolution and destruction of the family
lineage, the premonition that he had had the night of the fire, would
begin here, with his daughter and the white man.
For his part, James had done all he could to make Effia comfortable. She could see how much he tried. He had gotten his interpreter
to teach him even more words in Fante so that he could tell her how
beautiful she was, how he would take care of her as best he could. He
had called her what Abeeku called her, Effia the Beauty.
After they were married, James gave Effia a tour of the Castle. On
the ground floor of the north wall there were apartments and warehouses. The center held the parade ground, soldiers’ quarters, and
guardroom. There was a stockyard, a pond, a hospital. A carpenter’s

16

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 16

1/25/16 12:18 PM

Effia

shop, smithy, and kitchen. The Castle was itself a village. Effia walked
around with James in complete awe, running her hands along the fine
furniture made from wood the color of her father’s skin, the silk hangings so smooth they felt like a kiss.
She breathed everything in, stopping at the gun platform that held
huge black canons facing out toward the sea. She wanted to rest before
James led her up his private stairwell, and so she laid her head down
against one of those cannons for just a moment. Then she felt a breeze
hit her feet from small holes in the ground.
“What’s below?” she asked James, and the mangled Fante word
that came back to her was “cargo.”
Then, carried up with the breeze, came a faint crying sound. So
faint, Effia thought she was imagining it until she lowered herself
down, rested her ear against the grate. “James, are there people down
there?” she asked.
Quickly, James came to her. He snatched her up from the ground
and grabbed her shoulders, looking straight into her eyes. “Yes,” he
said evenly. It was one Fante word he had mastered.
Effia pulled away from him. She stared back into his piercing eyes.
“But how can you keep them down there crying, enh?” she said. “You
white people. My father warned me about your ways. Take me home.
Take me home right now!”
She didn’t realize she’d been screaming until she felt James’s hand
on her mouth, pushing her lips as though he could force the words
back in. He held her like that for a long time, until she had calmed. She
didn’t know if he understood what she said, but she knew then, just by
the faint push of his fingers on her lips, that he was a man capable of
hurting, that she should be glad to be on one side of his meanness and
not another.
“You want to go home?” James asked. His Fante firm, though unclear. “Your home is no better.”
Effia pulled his hand from her mouth and stared at him for a while
longer. She remembered her mother’s joy at seeing her leave, and
knew that James was right. She couldn’t go home again. She nodded,
only barely.

17

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 17

1/25/16 12:18 PM

homegoing

He hurried her up the stairs. On the very top floor were James’s
quarters. From the window Effia could see straight out to the sea. Cargo
ships like black specks of dust in the blue, wet eye of the Atlantic floated
so far out that it was difficult to tell how far away from the Castle the
ships actually were. Some were maybe three days away, others merely
an hour.
Effia watched a ship just like this once she and James finally got to
his room. A flickering of yellow light announced its presence on the
water, and with that light, Effia could just barely make out the boat’s
silhouette, long and curved like the hollowed-­out skin of a coconut.
She wanted to ask James what the ship was carrying and whether it
was coming or going, but she had grown tired of trying to decipher his
Fante.
James said something to her. He smiled when he spoke, a peace
offering. The corners of his lips twitched almost imperceptibly. She
shook her head, tried to tell him that she didn’t understand, and finally
he gestured to the bed in the left-hand corner of the room. She sat.
Baaba had explained what would be expected of her on her wedding
night before she had left for the Castle that morning, but it seemed
no one had explained it to James. When he approached her, his hands
were trembling, and she could see the sweat building on his forehead.
She was the one who laid her body down. She was the one who lifted
her skirt.
They went on like this for weeks until, eventually, the comfort of
routine began to dull the ache that missing her family had left her
with. Effia didn’t know what it was about James that soothed her. Perhaps it was the way he always answered her questions, or the affection
he showed her. Perhaps it was the fact that James had no other wives
there to attend to and so every one of his nights belonged to her. She
had cried the first time he brought her a gift. He had taken the black
stone pendant that Baaba had given her and put it on a string so that
Effia could wear it around her neck. Touching the stone always gave
her great comfort.
Effia knew she was not supposed to care for James, and she kept
hearing her father’s words echoing through her mind, how he had

18

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 18

1/25/16 12:18 PM

Effia

wanted more for her than to be the Fante wife of a white man. She
remembered, too, how close she had come to really being someone.
Her whole life Baaba had beat her and made her feel small, and she
had fought back with her beauty, a silent weapon, but a powerful one,
which had led her to the feet of a chief. But ultimately, her mother had
won, cast her out, not only of the house but of the village entirely, so
that now the only other Fantes she saw regularly were the spouses of
the other soldiers.
She’d heard the Englishmen call them “wenches,” not wives.
“Wife” was a word reserved for the white women across the Atlantic.
“Wench” was something else entirely, a word the soldiers used to keep
their hands clean so that they would not get in trouble with their god,
a being who himself was made up of three but who allowed men to
marry only one.
“What is she like?” Effia asked James one day. They had been trading languages. In the early mornings, before he went off to oversee the
work of the Castle, James would teach her English, and at night, when
they lay in bed, she taught him Fante. This night, he was tracing his
finger along the curve of her collarbone while she sang him a song that
Baaba used to sing Fiifi at night as Effia lay in the corner, pretending to
be asleep, pretending not to care that she was never included. Slowly,
James had started to mean more to her than a husband was supposed
to mean to a wife. The first word he had asked to learn was “love,” and
he said it every day.
“Her name is Anne,” he said, moving his finger from Effia’s collarbone to her lips. “I haven’t seen her in so long. We were married ten
years ago, but I’ve been away for so many of those years. I hardly know
her at all.”
Effia knew that James had two children in England as well. Emily
and Jimmy. They were ages five and nine, conceived in the few days he
was on leave and able to see his wife. Effia’s father had twenty children.
The old chief had had nearly a hundred. That a man could be happy
with so few seemed unfathomable to her. She wondered what the children looked like. She wondered, too, what Anne wrote James in those
letters of hers. They came at unpredictable intervals, four months here,

19

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 19

1/25/16 12:18 PM

homegoing

one month there. James would read them at his desk at night while
Effia pretended to be sleeping. She didn’t know what the letters said,
but every time James read one, he would come back to bed and lie as
far away from her as possible.
Now, without the force of a letter to keep him away, James was resting his head on her left breast. When he spoke, his breath was hot, a
wind that traveled the length of her stomach, down between her legs.
“I want children with you,” James said, and Effia cringed, worried that
she would not be able to fulfill this want, worried too that because she
had a bad mother, she herself would become one. She had already told
James about Baaba’s scheme, how she had forced Effia to keep her
womanhood a secret so that she would seem unfit for the men of her
village, but James had just laughed her sadness away. “All the better for
me,” he said.
And yet, Effia had started to believe that perhaps Baaba was right.
She’d lost her virginity on the night of her wedding, but months had
passed without a pregnancy. The curse may have been rooted in a lie,
but perhaps it bore the fruit of truth. The old people of her village used
to tell a story about a woman who was said to have been cursed. She
lived under a palm tree on the northwest side, and no one had ever
called her by her name. Her mother had died so that she might live,
and on her tenth birthday, she had been carrying a pot of boiling hot
oil from one hut to another. Her father was napping on the ground and
she, thinking that she could step over him instead of going around,
tripped, spilling the hot oil onto his face and disfiguring him for the
rest of his life, which lasted only twenty-­five more days. She was banished from the house, and she wandered the Gold Coast for years, until
she returned at age seventeen, a strange, rare beauty. Thinking that
perhaps she no longer courted death wherever she went, a boy who
had known her when she was young offered to marry her as she was,
destitute and without family. She conceived within a month, but when
the baby came out it was half-­caste. Blue-­eyed and light-­skinned, it died
four days later. She left her husband’s house the night of the child’s
death and went to live under the palm tree, punishing herself for the
rest of her life.

20

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 20

1/25/16 12:18 PM

Effia

Effia knew that the elderly of her village only told this story to warn
the children to take care when around hot oil, but she wondered about
the end of the story, the half-­caste child. How this child, both white and
black, was an evil powerful enough to force the woman out into the
forest of palms.
When Adwoa had married the white soldier, and when Millicent
and her mother had wandered into the village, Cobbe turned up his
nose. He had always said that the joining of a man and a woman was
also the joining of two families. Ancestors, whole histories, came with
the act, but so did sins and curses. The children were the embodiment
of that unity, and they bore the brunt of it all. What sins did the white
man carry with him? Baaba had said that Effia’s curse was one of a
failed womanhood, but it was Cobbe who had prophesied about a sullied lineage. Effia couldn’t help but think that she was fighting against
her own womb, fighting against the fire children.
“If you don’t give that man children soon, he will take you right
back,” Adwoa said. She and Effia had not been friends when they lived
in the village, but here they saw each other as often as possible, each
happy to be near someone who understood her, to hear the comforting
sounds of her regional tongue. Adwoa had already had two children
since leaving the village. Her husband, Todd Phillips, had only gotten
fatter since Effia had last seen him, sweaty and red in Adwoa’s old hut.
“I tell you, oh, Todd has kept me flat on my back since I arrived in
this place. I am probably expecting right now as we speak.”
Effia shuddered. “But his stomach is so big!” she said, and Adwoa
laughed until she choked on the groundnuts she was eating.
“Eh, but the stomach is not the part you use to make the baby,” she
said. “I will give you some roots from the woods. You put them under
the bed when you lie with him. Tonight, you must be like an animal
when he comes into the room. A lioness. She mates with her lion and
he thinks the moment is about him when it is really about her, her
children, her posterity. Her trick is to make him think that he is king of
the bush, but what does a king matter? Really, she is king and queen
and everything in between. Tonight, we will make you live up to your
title, Beauty.”

21

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 21

1/25/16 12:18 PM

homegoing

And so Adwoa came back with roots. They were no ordinary roots.
They were large and swirled, and when you pulled back one strand,
another would appear to take its place. Effia put them under the bed
and they only seemed to multiply, spilling leg after leg out until it
seemed the root would pick the bed up on its back and walk away, a
strange new spider.
“Your husband should not be able to see any of it,” Adwoa said, and
they worked to push back the strands of root that insisted on peeking
out, pushing and pulling until finally it was contained.
Then Adwoa helped Effia prepare for James. She plaited and
smoothed her hair and spread oil on her skin, and red clay on the
apples of her cheeks and the curve of her lips. Effia made sure that
when James came in that night the room smelled earthy and lush, like
something there could bear fruit.
“What’s all this?” James asked. He was still in his uniform, and
Effia could tell that he’d had a long day by the way his lapel drooped.
She helped him pull off his coat and shirt and she pressed her body
against his, as Adwoa had taught her. Before he could register his surprise, she grabbed his arms and pushed him to the bed. Not since their
first night together had he been this timid, afraid of her unfamiliar
body, the full-­figured flesh, so different from how he had described his
wife. Excited now, he pushed into her, and she squeezed her eyes as
tightly as she could, her tongue circling her lips. He pushed harder, his
breathing heavy and labored. She scratched his back, and he cried out.
She bit his ear and pulled his hair. He pushed against her as though
he were trying to move through her. And when she opened her eyes to
look at him, she saw something like pain written across his face and
the ugliness of the act, the sweat and blood and wetness they produced,
became illuminated, and she knew that if she was an animal tonight,
then he was too.
Once they had finished, Effia lay with her head on James’s shoulder.
“What is that?” James asked, turning his head. They had moved the
bed so that now three strands of the root were exposed.
“Nothing,” Effia said.
James jumped up and peered underneath the bed. “What is it,

22

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 22

1/25/16 12:18 PM

Effia

Effia?” he asked again, his voice more forceful than she had ever heard
it before.
“It’s nothing. A root that Adwoa gave me. For fertility.”
His lips formed a thin line. “Now, Effia, I don’t want any voodoo or
black magic in this place. My men can’t hear that I let my wench place
strange roots under the bed. It’s not Christian.”
Effia had heard him say this before. Christian. That was why they
had been married in the chapel by the stern man in black who shook
his head every time he looked at her. He’d spoken before, too, of the
“voodoo” he thought all Africans participated in. She could not tell
him the fables of Anansi the spider or stories that the old people from
her village used to tell her without his growing wary. Since moving to
the Castle, she’d discovered that only the white men talked of “black
magic.” As though magic had a color. Effia had seen a traveling witch
who carried a snake around her neck and shoulders. This woman had
had a son. She’d sung lullabies to him at night and held his hands and
kept him fed, same as anyone else. There was nothing dark about her.
The need to call this thing “good” and this thing “bad,” this thing
“white” and this thing “black,” was an impulse that Effia did not understand. In her village, everything was everything. Everything bore the
weight of everything else.
The next day Effia told Adwoa that James had seen the root.
“That is not good,” Adwoa said. “Did he call it evil?” Effia nodded, and Adwoa clicked her tongue three times. “Todd would have said
the same thing. These men could not tell good from evil if they were
Nyame himself. I don’t think it will work now, Effia. I’m sorry.” But
Effia wasn’t sorry. If she was barren, so be it.
Soon, even James was too busy to worry about children. The Castle
was expecting a visit from Dutch officers, and everything needed to run
as smoothly as possible. James would wake up well before Effia to help
the men with the imported store items and to see to the ships. Effia
spent more and more time wandering around the villages surrounding
the Castle, roaming the forests, and chatting with Adwoa.
The afternoon of the Dutch arrival, Effia met with Adwoa and some
of the other wenches just outside the Castle. They stopped beneath the

23

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 23

1/25/16 12:18 PM

homegoing

shade of a patch of trees in order to eat yams with palm oil stew. There
was Adwoa, then Sarah, the half-­caste wench of Sam York. There was
also the new wench, Eccoah. She was tall and slender, and she walked
as though her limbs were made of thin twigs, as though wind could
snap and collapse her.
This day, Eccoah was lying in the slim shade of a palm tree. Effia
had helped her coil her hair the day before, and in the sun, it looked
like a million tiny snakes rising from her head.
“My husband cannot pronounce my name well. He wants to call
me Emily,” Eccoah said.
“If he wants to call you Emily, let him call you Emily,” Adwoa said.
Out of the four of them, she had been a wench the longest, and she
always spoke her opinions loudly and freely. Everyone knew that her
husband practically worshipped at her feet. “Better that than to listen
to him butcher your mother tongue over and over.”
Sarah dug her elbows into the dust. “My father was a soldier too.
When he died, Mama moved us back to our village. I came to marry
Sam, but he did not have to worry about my name. Do you know he
knew my father? They were soldiers together in the Castle when I was
just a small girl.”
Effia shook her head. She was lying on her belly. She loved days like
this one, where she could speak Fante as fast as she wanted. No one
asking her to slow down, no one telling her to speak English.
“My husband comes up from the dungeons stinking like a dying
animal,” Eccoah said softly.
They all looked away. No one ever mentioned the dungeons.
“He comes to me smelling like feces and rot and looking at me like
he has seen a million ghosts, and he cannot tell if I am one of them or
not. I tell him he must wash before he touches me and sometimes he
does, but sometimes he pushes me to the floor and pushes into me like
he has been possessed.”
Effia sat up and rested a hand against her stomach. James had
received another letter from his wife the day after he’d found the root
underneath their bed. They had not slept together since.
The wind picked up. The snakes in Eccoah’s hair snapped this
way and that, her twig arms lifted. “There are people down there, you
24

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 24

1/25/16 12:18 PM

Effia

know,” she said. “There are women down there who look like us, and
our husbands must learn to tell the difference.”
They all fell silent. Eccoah leaned back against the tree, and Effia
watched as a line of ants passed over a strand of her hair, the shape of it
seeming, to them, to be just another part of the natural world.
After that first day in the Castle, James never spoke to Effia about
the slaves they kept in the dungeon, but he spoke to her often about
beasts. That was what the Asantes trafficked most here. Beasts. Monkeys and chimpanzees, even a few leopards. Birds like the king crowns
and macaws that she and Fiifi used to try to catch when they were children, roaming the forests in search of the one odd bird, the bird that
had feathers so beautiful it seemed to be set apart from the rest. They
would spend hours on end looking for just one such bird, and most
days they would find none.
She wondered what such a bird would be worth, because in the
Castle all beasts were ascribed worth. She had seen James look at a
king crown brought in by one of their Asante traders and declare that
it was worth four pounds. What about the human beast? How much
was he worth? Effia had known, of course, that there were people in the
dungeons. People who spoke a different dialect than her, people who
had been captured in tribal wars, even people who had been stolen, but
she had never thought of where they went from there. She had never
thought of what James must think every time he saw them. If he went
into the dungeons and saw women who reminded him of her, who
looked like her and smelled like her. If he came back to her haunted by
what he saw.

Effia soon realized that she was pregnant. It was spring, and the mango
trees outside the Castle had started to drop down mangoes. Her stomach jutted out, soft and fleshy, its own kind of fruit. James was so happy
when she told him that he picked her up and danced her around their
quarters. She slapped his back and told him to set her down, lest they
shake the baby to pieces, and he had complied before bending and
planting a kiss on her barely bulged stomach.
But their joy was soon tempered by news from her village. Cobbe
25

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 25

1/25/16 12:18 PM

homegoing

had fallen ill. So ill that it was unclear whether or not he would still be
alive by the time Effia made the journey back to see him.
She was not sure who had sent the letter from her village, for it
was addressed to her husband and written in broken English. She had
been gone two years, and she had not heard from anyone in her family
since then. She knew that this was Baaba’s doing, and indeed she was
surprised that anyone had even thought to notify her of her father’s
illness.
The journey back to the village took about three days. James did
not want her to make the trip alone in her condition, but he could not
accompany her, so he sent along a house girl. When they arrived, everything in the village looked different. The colors of the treetop canopies
seemed to have dulled, their vibrant browns and greens now muted.
The sounds seemed different too. Everything that once rustled now
stood still. Abeeku had made the village into one so prosperous that
they would forever be known as one of the leading slave markets in all
of the Gold Coast. He had no time to see Effia, but he sent along gifts of
sweet palm wine and gold to meet her once she arrived at her father’s
compound.
Baaba stood in the entranceway. She looked to have aged a hundred
years in the two that Effia had been gone. Her scowl was held in place
by the hundreds of tiny wrinkles that pulled at her skin, and her nails
had grown so long that they curled like talons. She didn’t speak a word,
only led Effia to the room where her father lay dying.
No one knew what sickness had struck Cobbe. Apothecaries, witch
doctors, even the Christian minister from the Castle, had been called
upon to give their opinions and pray over the man, and yet no measure
of healing thoughts or medicines could spit him out of the lips of death.
Fiifi stood beside him, wiping the sweat off his forehead carefully.
Suddenly, Effia was crying and shaking. She reached out her hand to
her father’s and began to stroke the sallow skin there.
“He cannot speak,” Fiifi whispered, glancing quickly at her bulging
belly. “He is too weak.”
She nodded and continued to cry.
Fiifi dropped the drenched cloth and took Effia’s hand. “Big sis-

26

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 26

1/25/16 12:18 PM

Effia

ter, I am the one who wrote you the letter. Mama did not want you to
come, but I thought you should get to see our father before he enters
Asamando.”
Cobbe closed his eyes, and a low murmur escaped his lips so that
Effia could see that the Land of the Spirits was indeed calling him.
“Thank you,” she said to Fiifi, and he nodded.
He began walking out of the room, but before he reached the hut’s
door, he turned. “She is not your mother, you know. Baaba. Our father
had you by a house girl who ran away into the fire the night you were
born. She is the one who left you that stone you wear around your
neck.”
Fiifi stepped outside. And soon, Cobbe died, Effia still holding his
hand. The villagers would say that Cobbe had been waiting for Effia
to come home before he could die, but Effia knew that it was more
complex than that. His unrest had kept him alive, and now that unrest
belonged to Effia. It would feed her life and the life of her child.
After she had wiped her tears, Effia walked out of the compound
and into the sun. Baaba sat on the stump of a felled tree, her shoulders
squared as she held hands with Fiifi, who stood beside her, now as
quiet as a field mouse. Effia wanted to say something to Baaba, to apologize perhaps for the burden her father had made Baaba carry all of
those years, but before she could speak, Baaba hacked from her throat,
spit on the ground before Effia’s feet, and said, “You are nothing from
nowhere. No mother and now no father.” She looked at Effia’s stomach
and smiled. “What can grow from nothing?”

27

Gyas_9781101947135_2p_all_r1.s.indd 27

1/25/16 12:18 PM

1.
I wanted a family.
I was rich, I owned a small business, I had a wardrobe I replaced all the time. I was toned
enough and pretty enough. I moisturized, I worked out. I looked younger than my age. I had been
to all the countries I wanted to see. I collected art and filled my West Village apartment with it.
My home was bright and tastefully bare and worthy of a spread in a magazine.
I was also a really good person. I volunteered at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving, I paid
my housekeeper well and on time. I was a good sister, a good daughter. I had been a pretty good
student. I’d gone to Sarah Lawrence and then NYU. I had substance. I was conscientious. I’d
seen enough documentaries to make me a vegetarian. I voted. I recycled. I tipped generously. I
gave money to homeless people on the street. I gave extra to gypsy mothers, their sooty babies,
always sleeping, maybe drugged, hanging heavy from their necks in hammocks made from ratty
T-shirts.
But, despite my good deeds and my good fortune, I felt incomplete. I had always felt
incomplete, even as a small child. I have a memory of myself, age four, cheek pressed against
the cold black smoky design of the bathroom tiles, my hot breath fogging the smooth marble,
thinking: I am dead. I am dead but I am alive. I am dead and this is a dream.
That I didn’t have a family yet wasn’t for a lack of trying. I felt I had always been trying.
I’d been engaged twice. I’d had a million boyfriends, and even one girlfriend, but none of them
had stuck. I tended to like addicts. Maybe by definition those people didn’t stick around – they
were always running, that was their nature. I also tended to like poor people, impoverished

sculptors like Jim, who were a little too desperate for my good sheets and my big TV screens and
my masseur, who came once a week.
There was something about having money that made the incompleteness sharper. If you
were broke, it was an excuse for almost everything. You couldn’t afford to fix the shower, so it
kept leaking. You didn’t have time for friends or exercise or charity – you were always working
because you had to work, and work was the best excuse for your misery.
If you had money, you had no excuse. And people didn’t feel sorry for you either.
Instead, they decided not to like you before they even knew you. They said: if you’re sad, can’t
you buy a new house somewhere, can’t you take a trip? Don’t you have so many choices, so
many resources? They said: we’re not stupid and we know you can’t buy happiness, but we also
know you sort of can, too, because money means choices and choices mean you don’t have the
limits that we do, and that means you should shut up now and be happy – look at everything you
have, it’s limitless.
And those people were right. It was limitless. I got a headache just thinking about how
limitless it was. If you could afford any end table in the world, how could you be sure you were
getting the right one? If you could go anywhere, where would you go? And in what order? And
for how long? If you had any goals at all, why had you not attained them? If you hadn’t attained
them, it wasn’t because you were broke, it was because you had failed.
And so it was that I felt not only incomplete, but also like a failure. I went to the Gala for
Contemporary Folk Art that night not because I really wanted to, or because I had planned on
meeting anyone. I went because I had promised Susan I would go, and I was a good friend who
kept my promises.

Wine stem between just-manicured (always manicured) fingers, I stood in the pool of
people, looking up at this enormous tapestry. Buttery light, the clinking of glass, low polite
voices, one person laughing too loud. Men in tuxedos pressed and crisp and smelling slightly of
the dry cleaning bags they’d been taken out of just before, and women in gowns that made them
look like jellyfish, their hair coiffed into oceanic shapes. I wore white, which is funny to think
about now. Of course I wore white. All I wanted was to be married, and that want was obvious,
subliminal, cellular – it was in everything I did, whether I knew it or not.
The tapestry was big, as big as a swimming pool, and so intricate, all those tiny pulls of
string. It was a modern triptych, three panels in brilliant colors, almost neon: a woman floating in
water, a woman standing on land, a woman curled at the foot of a mountain. It was beautiful and
depressing and overwhelming and all I could think was: I am forty-three years old and I am
alone and where the hell is Susan?
Of course it was just when I’d decided to leave and go home and curl up in bed that I saw
him. A stunning, square-jawed man with gentle eyes and elegant gray hair, full and parted to the
side. He made his way closer until he was standing beside me. We watched the tapestry like it
was a movie. We said nothing to float other for what felt like a long time. There was something
familiar about him. Maybe he looked like an actor, or maybe he was just one of those people
who looked familiar to everyone, or maybe his dry-cleaned scent reminded me of home.
“It’s nice to see you,” he said finally. His voice was smooth and cool, like metal,
brilliantly polished. He held out his hand. On his pinky was a ring – a turquoise stone on a
tarnished silver band. That intrigued me. It seemed out of place and special. It suggested a
character.
“Do I know you?”

“William Stockton.”
“Catherine West.”
I remember his hand felt as smooth and as cool as his voice. I remember thinking: there is
something about this guy, there is some kind of electricity between us. It was big, enormous,
unavoidable. From the very beginning, it felt like a current pulling me blissfully toward a
whirlpool. Before you drown, the spinning just feels like a dance.

2.
William Stockton and I had never met, but it turned out our families had been friends. “In
fact,” he was saying, “I believe I remember your mother pregnant, and it must have been you she
was pregnant with.”
It was three days after the gala, a night which had ended in Susan never showing (the
flu), and William buying the huge tapestry, and taking my phone number, and calling to ask me
out for this coffee we were now having in the park, very near to William’s new apartment on
Seventy-Eighth Street – he’d just moved back from Switzerland – and also near to my childhood
apartment on Eighty-Fourth, where William had apparently visited “more than once.”
“If she was pregnant with me, we must have just missed each other.” I twirled my long
chocolate-colored hair around my fingers. The plan was to mesmerize him, and I was pretty sure
it was working. More softly, I said, “Ships in the night.”
“Uncanny.” When William smiled, the lines around his mouth creased. Those were the
only real lines on his face. His skin was strangely intact for a man of his age. It glistened, lightly
bronzed, almost golden. And his hair. Despite being gray, it was silky, well-conditioned. It
bounced with just the right amount of bounce as we walked.

It was a warm Saturday in May, the first real warm day after what had felt like the
longest winter of my life, and I was feeling alive, finally alive, and also kind of over-stimulated.
It was my bare exposed skin, which hadn’t seen light for so long – I felt almost naked in my
summery dress – and it was the buzz from the coffee, and it was this man: this handsome,
extremely tall, extremely independently wealthy man who was articulate and Old World in a way
that didn’t seem contrived, and who knew me – not me personally, but he knew my family, and
in this way we shared a history. We came from the same place. I trusted him immediately.
He had brought his dog, Herman, a long-haired dachshund with gold-brown hair that
curled slightly at the ends, very cute. As we veered from the asphalt onto the curving dirt path,
under the shadows of tree branches, their outstretched limbs begging for sun, children stopped to
pet Herman, and William was very sweet with every one of them, lingering patiently, saying,
“This is Herman, and what is your name?”
We passed a group of young boys building something with sticks, and a lesbian couple on
a plaid blanket, eating scooped-out cantaloupe balls from a dewy Ziploc bag like they were really
in the wilderness. A line of little day campers in bright white shirts moved like a twinkling
diamond bracelet over the knoll. Someone far away was flying a kite shaped like a fish.
It smelled like grass and dirt and, in certain moments, when we walked close enough
together, there was the faint trace of William’s clean, salt-dipped scent. I would never figure out
exactly what that scent was – maybe the combination of his hair products and his detergent and
the aftershave he used, and the unique way it reacted with his skin. Vaguely, it reminded me of a
hotel where I’d stayed on the Amalfi coast when I was thirteen and still obsessed with pasta
Bolognese.

We were talking, of course, about what he remembered. “Let’s see,” he said, sipping the
last of his coffee and stepping in front of me (“Pardon me, Catherine”) to throw it in the wiry
basket, which prompted me to do the same, even though my coffee was still basically full – I’d
been too over-stimulated to drink it. “I remember the stone lions by the door – not replicas
because they were missing facial features – and, of course, the plants. There were so many
plants.”
“Yes, oh my God. Those plants are what everyone remembers, it’s so funny.” My mother
loved her plants – she could have almost been called a hoarder of them. Ferns lined the walls,
succulents lined the windowsills, and roses (always roses) were a mandatory centerpiece on
every table. She spent a good deal of time explaining to her assistants (she called them all
assistants, whether they were housekeepers or nannies or decorators) what her plant visions
were, and kept a list for the florist alongside a grocery list in the kitchen drawer. Her collection
of plants was the one way in which my mother diverged from her typical Upper East Side
existence. It may have been the only eccentric thing about herself she let people see.
“It was nearly a forest, wasn’t it?”
“It was. Especially in the fountain room. The running water made it more forest-like. Do
you remember that?”
William squinted into the sun. His face was the shape of a heart or a strawberry, with lips
that were just pink enough, just full enough. “Yes,” he said, nodding, “yes, of course, how could
I have forgotten that? It was a stone fountain, wasn’t it? Like the lions, it was made of stone that
had been worn away outside, by wind and rain. Do I correctly recall cherubs?”
“Yes! I thought they were so scary as a kid because they had no pupils.”

“I also remember the bathroom with the yellow walls,” he said, “I very distinctly recall
its mustard color.”
“The mustard bathroom, yes!”
“And the reclining chair your father loved.”
“Yes, oh my God, this is so crazy. You know so much about my life and I only just met
you. It’s crazy.”
I probably said, “It’s crazy” twenty times. Although, as we kept talking, I realized maybe
it wasn’t so crazy. People in New York knew each other, and apparently, not only were our
mothers involved in a lot of the same art organizations, our fathers had both been close to Pierre
Mallet, the reclusive artist who lived in the Catskills with too many dogs. I remembered Pierre,
of course, though not well, because he rarely came to the city. What I remembered most clearly
was that every time Pierre’s name came up, my mother said, “He needs to quit smoking. He’s
going to die.”
William’s father, Edward Stockton, had also been an artist, William told me – “though he
never achieved fame or money, which was a shame – he wanted those things very badly.” He
and Pierre had collaborated on many projects, including a series of orb-like sculptures, one of
which my parents had bought and put in the living room.
“I didn’t realize that was your father’s sculpture!” I remembered it exactly. It looked like
a planetary system, with all white planets and one blue one, which bore a red X. I recalled many
afternoons spent lazing on the couch, looking at that X and vaguely wondering what it meant.
“In part, it was, yes,” William said. “I believe it was Pierre who introduced our fathers
initially.”
“What happened to Pierre?”

“He passed away some years ago,” William said. “Lung cancer.”
Based on his choice of outfit for a weekend walk in the park (blue dress shirt, buttoned to
the neck, deep tan khaki pants, tight brown leather shoes), I was not surprised to find out William
had turned out to be a banker. He’d spent a long time at UBS, and now worked at a small
investment bank downtown, way downtown, south of Wall Street at the very tip of the island.
My initial response to this was: no. I had gone out of my way to not date finance guys because I
didn’t want to end up marrying my father, who had worked too hard and died too young, and
also because I just thought finance was boring. But William didn’t seem boring to me. The
turquoise ring – he wasn’t a typical banker. It also helped when he said, “I enjoy my job very
much,” and I actually believed him. The way he spoke – he was so charismatic. He could have
sold water to the ocean.
“I sometimes wonder if it was your father who inspired me into this position,” he said.
“In my youth, I was surrounded by bohemians, and your father – well, he was different. He made
an impression. He was so very powerful – the way he dressed and the way he spoke.”
I said, “Thank you, yes, he was,” and I remember I got the feeling that William could
have been describing himself just then. The shine of his Italian shoes reminded me of something
my father said often: “A great man’s shoes should always be polished.”
We walked for a long time, going through the requisite first date stuff. School, family,
hobbies. Favorite foods, vacation spots, whether or not Starbucks had good coffee. I was so rapt
by everything he said, and by his cool way of saying it that I looked up at one point and realized
I didn’t even know where we were in the park.
William did not like the coffee at Starbucks. (“Too much acidity.”) He had no siblings
(“In fact, they hadn’t planned on having me either.”) During his early childhood in the city, the

Stocktons had lived just near the Met, and he had gone to Dalton. (“You would go to Dalton,” I
teased, flipping my hair, to which he said, “Yes, my mother befriended the dean, and so I was
allowed to attend for free.”) He had studied the violin “fairly seriously” during his youth, and it
was still something he liked – he was even thinking of volunteering as a tutor now, if he could
find any extra time to indulge in that.
His parents had inspired his love of folk art. His mother, who had grown up in Mexico
City and then Santa Fe, was drawn to it as a Catholic, and particularly loved the works of
Reverend Howard Finster and Sister Gertrude Morgan. She made art herself – “mostly crotchet,
she was very patient” – but didn’t consider herself a real artist. She was talented, but lacked
dedication. His father, who William thought possessed less natural talent, was dedicated enough
for the both of them. Edward Stockton was extremely hardworking, almost obsessed. Every day
– even on Sundays, which bothered his mother – he awoke at four o’clock in the morning to
work. “Work was all that mattered to him, and my mother understood there could not be two
stars in one family. My father was the star, and my mother, I suppose, was the sky. He wouldn’t
have existed without her.”
William went on to explain that his father’s severe stutter made him self-conscious about
speaking. “But when he began to stutter, my mother was there to finish his sentences.” She
carried him through every party, every opening, every event. She had a knack for people and
people adored her. In the art world, in the supermarket, at church. Church was very important to
her.
Yes, William was still a Catholic. “It’s a part of me, I hope you won’t judge me too
harshly for it,” he said, and I blurted out, “Isn’t Catholicism all about judgment?” I immediately
regretted this and backtracked. “Sorry, sorry,” I said, “I’m only kidding.” And he said, “It’s

okay, I’m used to it, really, it’s not very la mode to be Catholic these days, I understand.” In an
attempt to appear kind and interested, and also because I wanted to know how serious he was
about the whole thing, I asked him how often he went to church. He liked to “stop in every so
often,” mostly to pay his respects to his parents. Both of them were gone now: a freak car
accident on an unpaved road. It was recent – they’d died only months ago. “I regret that I didn’t
have the chance to say goodbye,” he said.
Now, William had his own “modest collection” of folk art. I wondered how modestly he
was defining “modest.” It included sculptures and tableaux in cross stitch – he adored those,
probably because they reminded him of his mother – plus all of his father’s work, of course, and
a few Joseph Yoakum landscapes, which were his favorites. I didn’t know who that was, but
heard myself saying, “Oh yes, of course, I love his stuff.”
When I said, “I like your ring,” he explained that it was a family heirloom, dating back
exactly one generation – his mother had bought it the day she had arrived in the States, when she
was ten. She had given it to William on his tenth birthday, and, at some point in his life, he
would pass it on to his own child, if he was “lucky enough to have one.”
He had been married before, yes. At the age of thirty-six. Gwen had died four years later.
Breast cancer. He’d dated since then, but hadn’t found anyone he wanted to spend eternity with.
I felt bad for thinking Gwen was a fake princess name, and then I felt bad for William that he
had lost her. I couldn’t even imagine that, I told him. He said it was horrible, but at least, unlike
with his parents, he had been given the chance to say goodbye.
On a lighter note, William enjoyed skiing and running. Stracciatella gelato was his
preferred treat. He could eat it all night and all day. But not literally, of course. He’d briefly lived
in Italy after university at Oxford. He spoke some Italian, and also French, German, and Spanish.

He’d grown up speaking Spanish with this mother, who he’d been very close with, unlike his
father, who “gave the impression that he was a man simply out of reach.” His father was
German, though he had learned that language mostly at school. Despite their nearly identical
looks (“typically Nordic – hard and pale, as though chiseled from ice”), William felt he and his
father had had very little in common. He and his mother, on the other hand, shared a “deep
internal sameness.” She had passed on none of her physical features (“she looked Native
American, everyone thought so”), besides her very long limbs. When William said this, he
extended the arm that wasn’t holding Herman’s leash. “See?”
“Wow,” I said, and imagined how good it was going to feel when I had that arm wrapped
around my waist.
More seriously, he said, “My mother was a wonderful human being, I miss her dearly.”
“I’m sure you do, I’m so sorry.”
I don’t know what it was that made us stop walking, or what made us look at each other
then. His face was perfect, his body. The air was perfect. The electricity between us. Even
Herman’s bark had a musical ring to it. I remember thinking: you look like you could be the one.
Even then, I knew. William Stockton and Catherine West. Those two names were going to look
great on an invitation. And then, without acknowledging that we had stopped or why, which
made it even more perfect because it implied we understood each other without the annoyance of
finding words to speak our understanding, William began to walk again, and I followed.
“And your parents? Are they still at Eighty-Fourth?”
“No. My mother moved out recently. And Dad’s gone. He died of a heart attack.” It had
been a while – ten years – so I didn’t feel completely devastated saying it anymore, but it still

upset me, especially being here, so close to where we had lived. William also seemed upset to
hear this news, and sighed heavily in a way that confirmed he hadn’t known.
“That’s terrible. I adored your father. I mean that, I truly adored him. Once he took me to
an exhibit about the railroad system in America. No one would go with him – your mother
certainly wasn’t interested.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“It’s odd to think of now. Where were my parents? I can’t recall. But I remember that day
well. Your father tipped the waitress a hundred dollars. I was very impressed.”
“He did that all the time!” I wanted to tell William I was generous like that, too, but there
was no humble way to drop this.
We had gotten to edge of the reservoir: joggers in their skintight Lululemon, a French
couple taking pictures of one another, and the water, so still – a barely moving reflection of the
sky.
“Shall we make the loop?”
“Let’s make the loop,” I said, as though making the loop had much a greater significance
than just walking in a circle.
It had been about a year since I’d been up here, since we’d sold the apartment. My
mother’s Alzheimer’s had progressed to the point where the task of living alone was beyond her.
For a while, she had caretakers, but my mother was a difficult person, and these people kept
quitting. My sister thought we should put her in a home. At the time, I thought it was so shitty of
us, but it actually turned out to be the best thing. She had friends there, or at least other forgetful
people her age who seemed friendly enough, and the interior of the place – the sofas, the walls,
everything – was either cream or yellow or a combination of cream and yellow, which looked

lame in the pamphlet but had a surprisingly uplifting effect in person. It was completely unlike
the dark apartment on Eighty-Fourth Street with its heavy velvet curtains and its stone animals
and its long disturbing hallways filled with plants.
Even though it had been the right thing to do, I still hated that we had sold. It felt like my
father was preserved in that apartment, and without it, there was no palpable evidence of him:
nothing to remind me of his peppery smell, or of the particular way the air rushed in through the
window of his study sometimes, blowing apart all his papers. Besides a few trips to the dentist
and exactly two baby showers (bane of my existence), I had managed to avoid the Upper East
Side completely since Mom had left. Which hadn’t been hard. Especially since my sister, in a
move that surprised everyone – everyone being me, because I was the only one left, at least the
only consistently coherent one – had relocated all the way across town to the Upper West Side to
be near her doctor husband’s practice, and now lived conveniently within blocks of our mother.
Walking with William now, I felt surprisingly at ease being here. I wasn’t as pissed off or
as sad as I’d expected to be. The reservoir reminded me of so many things, and I actually felt like
sharing them. It was out of character for me to open up so easily. I took this as a good sign.
“We used to drink Vermouth on those rocks in high school.” I pointed to the gray
boulders. “And – oh my God – one day, walking here with my dad – maybe I was five, six? – I
threw my stuffed panda bear into the water, over this gate.” I touched the metal. It was warm.
Herman circled back because we had stopped. He sniffed my toes.
“Did you?” William said thoughtfully. He was a good listener. He paid attention. He
understood how to draw people out of themselves. He put a hand on the metal next to mine.
“Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know,” I said, trying to remember, but nothing came to mind. “I became difficult
around that age.”
“Really?”
“My dad said I changed when my sister was born. I was jealous.”
A pause. “I didn’t know you had a sister.”
“Caroline. She’s younger, so you wouldn’t have known her, I guess.”
“No,” he said. “Our families must have lost touch by then.”
“Why, do you think? Did something happen?”
In a lower voice, he said, “I think people simply lose touch sometimes.” He looked at the
water. His nose, in profile, was long, dignified. He had the strong jaw of a warrior. I couldn’t see
his eyes.
Then, without words, he took my hand, and led me to the street, which wasn’t far. We
walked over the cobblestones to the curb. We had spent almost two hours together and I had
assumed, for some reason, that our date would include dinner. I thought the next words out of his
mouth would be, “Catherine, I would love the pleasure of having dinner with you,” or at least,
“How do you feel about sushi?” but instead, he said, “I have an appointment for a haircut,” and
looked at his watch – a Patek Philippe with roman numerals and a simple black band – “at four
o’clock.” This seemed like a too-abrupt ending (had I done something wrong?) and his hair
looked great, but I said, “Okay, right, haircuts are important,” and smiled (too enthusiastically – I
was overcompensating) and reminded myself that two hours was a very long time, and that I had
to stop being unrealistic with men. It was unrealistic to think you would meet a person for coffee
and then never leave their side. We weren’t teenagers.

He raised his long, elegant arm for a cab. “Perfect,” he said, in his cool, even way. I got
the impression then that William was a person who wouldn’t show you what he didn’t want you
to see. Because it was four-fifteen and he didn’t seem stressed at all that he was late. He was
serene, the flat surface of unmoving water, liquid that appeared solid. I remember thinking: he
must be great at his job.
Looking back, this might have been my first little warning. A haircut, now? It felt like a
lie. What was he hiding? At the time, this warning registered only in the vaguest way – a slight
constriction in my chest, maybe, a tiny pang that disappeared, a single skipped beat I told myself
didn’t matter. It was just a haircut. It was nothing.
A cab stopped. He stepped forward and opened the door in one fluid movement. The way
he moved had a naturally sensual quality to it. We watched Herman jump in, and then jump back
out. Was it odd that we said nothing about that? Was it odd that we hadn’t been speaking? Then
William put his fingers below my chin like my face was something delicate, and he kissed me.
His lips were perfect. And his taste: of mint dipped in sea salt. He was careful, confident,
familiar, strange. He was exactly what I’d been waiting for.

3.
The next day, Susan made a circle with her finger on the couch and said, “Is this new?”
“Do you like it?” I had bought two new couches. We sat on one and looked at the other.
White, downy fabric that reminded me of clouds (who doesn’t want a couch like a cloud?) paired
with a low-backed, contemporary body that was long and near to the floor.

I had been redecorating. I was going through a period where I wanted everything in the
house to be white. It felt cleaner to me, and softer, and, as my architect had rightly pointed out,
white didn’t compete with the art.
“It’s good,” she said, in her absolute way. Susan only spoke in absolutes. She was the
most decisive person I knew. She also had good taste, so her opinion mattered to me. I was
relieved she approved of the couch.
Today Susan wore a giant yellow scarf that looked more like a blanket, and was feeling a
lot better after her episode with the flu, though she still wanted to baby herself, which was why
she was swaddled, drinking tea, and which was also why she had conveniently planned this visit
to coincide with Dan the masseur’s usual Sunday appointment. Dan loved me, so he usually
didn’t mind adding another body to the roster, especially if it was Susan.
Susan was my closest friend. We had gone to Deerfield together and now basically led
parallel lives – same gym, same hairdresser, same magazines in the bathroom. Physically, we
were total opposites, which was only annoying because it disproved my theory that short people
and tall people didn’t mix in meaningful ways, though this theory still held up with everyone in
my life besides Susan. I was tall, Susan was short. I had brown hair, Susan had blonde hair.
Susan was fair-skinned, I was olive-skinned. Our color themes even extended to the tea we were
drinking right now. Me: Earl Gray. Susan: Chamomile.
“I think one of my people got me sick,” she said, curling her small legs underneath her
blanket/scarf.
“Who? Henry?”

“Please, don’t say his name.” She mock-cringed. “Oh, I need to text him. Thanks for
reminding me.” She rummaged around her giant salmon-pink purse until she found her phone. I
was surprised it wasn’t in her hand already. Susan was a little addicted to the screen.
By “her people,” Susan (lovingly) meant the people who worked at her shop, Bonsai, a
sweet boutique that sold, obviously, bonsai trees. It turned out Susan had landed on a goldmine
with this very niche market that combined artistry and mini fauna, and she was killing it. Henry
was her manager. He was also twenty-four and wanted to fuck her. He’d made this obvious
through the many doting cards he left around the shop for her to find. With his spirited curly hair
and the cut offs he wore in summer, Henry looked like a gardener from a 90s movie. (“I half
expect to find him singing into a hose every time I go in there,” she said once.) But, as much as
she thought sleeping with Henry would be “wholly entertaining,” he was too young, and he was
her employee. Susan had self-respect, or at least she wanted it to appear that way. So her
approach was to dismiss the cards entirely – she didn’t mention them to Henry at all. Yes, of
course she kept them. She kept them in a box at home and that was no one’s business.
Working was a big thing Susan and I had in common. Most of our friends didn’t work,
especially the ones from Deerfield. They were too busy raising kids (or paying people to do that),
and taking care of the household (or telling their assistants how to do that), and going to Pilates
and lunch and dotingly removing their husbands’ coats at night after long, money-making days at
the office.
Susan and I, both still childless (she didn’t want them) and unmarried (which bothered
me more than it bothered her), each owned small businesses within a few blocks of each other in
the West Village, where we both also lived. Mine was a handmade stationery shop. The goal in
starting it was to promote new artists, and give them a way to make some extra cash, while also

giving people cool, original, not-Hallmark cards. Susan had actually named the shop for me:
Leaf. First we thought Paper, but that was taken, and Leaf – ha – went with the bonsai theme. As
in: bonsais had leaves, most of the time. (Yes, we may have come up with this idea while tipsy
on pink champagne one late afternoon at Le Gigot.)
Although neither of us actually needed to work, we often did. It was nice to have
something tangible and straightforward to do during the day. I hated to be such a cliché, but if I
had nothing to do, I shopped. Which was bad, but better than drugs. Of course I was grateful to
have the luxury to buy whatever I wanted, but I also knew I didn’t fully understand gratitude for
material things like other people did. By “other people” I obviously meant poorer people, which
also happened to be most people. I knew I was lucky because people told me I was lucky. I knew
it to the extent that I could know it. But I actually resented my good fortune sometimes – I may
have had distorted, over-simplified notions that romanticized a hunter/gatherer/stranded-on-adesert-island-in-a-good-way(?)-type life – and this, the resenting, proved that I didn’t get it at all,
because, as Susan pointed out, “Only trust fund babies have the audacity to resent money.” She
was allowed to say this because she was a trust fund baby too.
I watched her beady little blue eyes scan the screen. Susan was pretty in sort of a pinched
way. She had small features – a button nose and the itty bitty mouth of a pocket-sized fairy. As a
child she had been adorable. Now she was what people usually called “cute.” She hated that – no
one called tall people “cute.” But, she argued, she did get more leg room where tall people
didn’t, though this would have been more advantageous if she flew coach, which would never
happen.
She chuckled to herself, said, “Wow.”
“What?”

“Nothing.”
In a way, Susan and I were still the skinny, naïve girls we’d been at Deerfield. When she
said “nothing” now, I saw her saying “nothing” at age fourteen, when she had a crush on Tommy
Charles and didn’t want to talk about it.
“Um,” she looked up. She had forgotten what she was going to say. And then she
remembered. “Oh, should we get sandwiches?”
“I don’t know. Do you want a sandwich?”
“I wouldn’t be asking you if I didn’t want one.”
“Okay, but let’s order in.”
“Oh yeah, I’m not walking anywhere.”
So I called the sandwich place, and got a veggie hummus wrap and a Coke for Dan, like a
real Coca Cola, which no adult except for Dan actually drank, and which was hilariously not in
synch with his holistic approach to life at all.
I took a sip of my tea and noticed how the leaves on the tree outside my window were so
much bigger and greener than they had been the week before. I thought: you can be in the same
rut for so long, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, everything changed and you remembered
what the point was. The point was, of course, love. To love someone, to be loved by someone:
that was the point. Even in my best relationships, I wasn’t sure I had ever been truly in love. This
bothered me. A lot. I thought about it all the time. I was sure it was part of the incompleteness I
had always felt. None of the people I’d been with seemed to be the missing piece. They were
always the wrong shape, sometimes very obviously and other times in a more irritatingly
mysterious way. I told myself I was not stupid to think that with William, it would be different,
though of course I knew I had said this many times before.

I didn’t know why I was waiting to tell Susan about him. Usually, it would have been the
first thing out of my mouth. Maybe I didn’t want to jinx it. Or I didn’t want to find out she hated
him, because if she did, her opinion would be hard to cast aside. I had to tell her, though, and if I
waited too much longer she’d accuse me of withholding. “Do you know William Stockton?”
Susan looked up immediately. “Stockton, Stockton,” she said quickly. She was a person
who talked very fast unless she was sad. When she was sad, she talked very slow. “I know
Maureen Stockton, I know Callan or Cameron Stock-ard. William. William. Will-yam. Does he
do Dick or Will or anything?”
“I don’t know.”
“Not helpful.”
I drank more tea, even though I knew it would be cold now, which it was.
“Who is he?”
I gave it to Susan in bullet-points – those resonated with her. “Met him at the gala, we
had coffee yesterday, he just moved back from Europe, he knows my family, he knew them
before I was born. Very good looking, has a dog, literally just moved back.”
“Huh.” Susan stretched her feet out onto the glass coffee table, with one foot on either
side of the lilies I had bought earlier. She curled her toes back (her toenails matched her
fingernails today: eggplant), then pointed them forward. She kept doing this, back and forth, and
we stared at her feet because they were something to stare at. “Is he married? Kids? Why is he
back now?”
“Work.”
Susan, a lover of gossip, squinted attentively as I went on to explain William’s memories
of Eight-Fourth Street, and of my parents, and what he looked like (very tall, maybe six-four,

gray hair, sensitive eyes, strong jaw, chiseled yet childlike features – I had been thinking about
words to describe him), and the kiss at the end. I skipped the part about the haircut.
“Sensitive eyes? Okay, you’re fucked.”
“I know. But it’s good, right? Doesn’t it sound good?”
“Definitely good,” Susan said, “almost too good.” When she looked up and saw my
reaction to that – not happy – she said, “But, listen, you deserve it. Oh my God, you deserve it.
After the ride you’ve had, and Fernando – shit, girl.” She pointed a finger in the air. “Good stuff
is coming, don’t worry.”
By “the ride you’ve had,” Susan meant: all the terrible people you’ve chosen, including,
most recently, Fernando Delarus, who asked you to marry him and then left you for someone
else – not even a young model, but an old, old woman, so the only problem could have been your
personality.
So yes, I was ready for the good stuff. I think, honestly, I hoped this business of getting
young artists exposure and money would count as something Good I was doing, something to
enhance the Good that would be returned to me by the universe. But that sounded so terrible and
selfish and Bad that I wouldn’t have mentioned it to anyone, not even Susan.
.
Dan arrived just after the sandwiches, wearing his usual massage outfit – coal-gray
stretchy pants and a white V-neck under a colorfully striped alpaca hoodie. When he smiled, the
gap between his two front teeth reminded me, as it always did, of Madonna. It was also very
endearing.
“Hi,” he said, and kissed me on the cheek.
“Dan-nay,” Susan said.

“Susan.” He went to kiss her.
“Can you fit me in or do you have a meditation retreat to go to?”
Dan paused. He did this a lot. He liked to think about things. He looked at the ceiling – he
often found the answer up there. “I can fit you in.”
“Good, sit,” Susan patted the couch.
Dan rubbed his hands together – he did this as a reflex, it was what he did to warm his
hands before touching skin – and did as he was told.
“Okay, let’s go around. Updates, Danny, updates.” Dan and Susan hadn’t seen each other
in a few weeks – she’d been in St. Barth’s avoiding the cruel end of spring. “I’m getting over the
flu. Don’t worry, Dan,” she touched his arm, “I’m not contagious. Other than that, I am still
single. Nobody good goes to St. Barth’s in May. I am considering buying a new car this summer.
Not a red convertible, no. I am not having a midlife crisis, no, no. What else? My doctor told me
to do yoga for my back. I hate yoga. It drives me insane, it’s too slow.” Dan and I laughed.
“That’s it. Catherine, go.”
“Met someone and feeling hopeful.”
“Really?” Dan said.
I shrugged. “We’ll see.”
“Dan?”
“I turned thirty-one this week.”
“No you didn’t.”
“I did.”
“Baby,” Susan said.
“I’m so sorry I forgot,” I said. “But we did get you a sandwich.”

We moved to the table, the large glass dining table overlooking my tree and my street. I
loved this street, and I had waited for a long time to buy the perfect home here. It was narrow
and quaint and reminded me of France.
Susan said, “I’m feral for this, I haven’t eaten real sustenance in days,” and dug into her
sandwich (chicken salad), and Dan thoughtfully unwrapped his. I wasn’t that hungry but I took a
bite because it was there. It tasted mostly like carrots with a dash of cucumber because that’s
exactly what it was.
“Thanks so much for this,” Dan said.
“Of course.”
“You should come get a bonsai, Dan,” Susan said, her mouth full, “from the store. For
your birthday.”
“Really?”
“Yeah.” She went on to explain about the different kinds.
He nodded at the right times, said, “yes,” “okay,” at the right times, took small bites of
his wrap and chewed with his mouth closed. He opened his Coke, took a sip, placed the butt of
the can back down in the circle where it had been. I always watched Dan with a certain interest
because he was so strangely at ease with himself. How could a thirty-one-year old be this
comfortable in the world? Shouldn’t he be stressed, schlepping around on the subway all day
with his backpack, going from one knotted back to the next, trying to make a buck?
He was also so polite. His good manners came from being raised partly in Tokyo – that’s
how he had explained it when Susan had asked once. He was half-Japanese, and exotically
handsome (black hair and blue eyes), and it was odd that neither Susan nor I had romantic
feelings for him. He was attractive, sweet, and (I was pretty sure) straight. He just really felt to us

like a younger brother – that’s what we said when we talked about it. Susan was strict about not
dealing with anyone under thirty-five anyway, and I was strict about my height requirements.
Dan was five-five – way too short.
Even though we all acted like friends, I sometimes worried Dan secretly thought we were
assholes. He never talked about money, but I assumed he was broke, maybe because he wore the
same outfit all the time and lived in a neighborhood in Brooklyn I’d never heard of. I didn’t
know much about his personal life except for that he had a dog and worked really long days. I
tipped him a lot, of course – I tipped everyone a lot – but then that made me feel kind of pathetic:
rich lady buying friendship of young masseur. It was impossible not to be a cliché of yourself.
Every little choice was just another opportunity to be so obviously – well – you.
Susan crumpled her sandwich paper and flicked it a couple of inches away from her on
the table. “I demolished that.” Susan talked like a stoner sometimes because she had spent her
childhood in San Francisco. Her younger sister, who still lived there, actually referred to eating
as “grinding,” as in, “Let’s go grind some food.”
“This was delicious, thanks again.” Dan wrapped the half that was left and slid it into his
floppy fabric backpack. He stood up, pushed his chair in. “I’ll set up the room,” he said, and
went down the stairs.
“Can I go first? Do you mind?” Susan looked at her phone. A sly smile appeared on her
face in reaction to whatever she was reading.
“No, that’s fine.”
“Thanks.” She threw her yellow blanket/scarf/pashmina thing over the side of the couch,
placed her phone on top of that, and walked her little fairy feet down the stairs.

I cleaned off the table, and put my uneaten wrap in the fridge. I knew I wouldn’t eat it
later, but felt too guilty throwing it away – this was a habit left from Jim, who had called me
wasteful once.
I could hear Susan laughing. I opened a book about apartheid. It was one of those books
everyone said you had to read. From at least three people, I’d heard: “It takes some time to get
into, but you have to read this book.” I read the opening paragraph and closed the book. (I had
done this at least twelve times.)
I looked around the room. It looked good. My gorgeous white house, my art: red Mark
Rothko on one wall, lithographs of an obscure French printmaker on the other, Asian vases, huge
ones, in the corner. A modern chandelier that looked like it was made from white rose petals
floated above the table. Of course, I couldn’t stop myself. I was always looking past what was
good to what was wrong, and right now what was wrong was that the vases needed to be dusted.
I knew Lucia was scared to touch them, but we had already gone over how to dust them lightly. I
would bring it up again. A voice in my head said: you have become your mother. Another voice
said: no, you’re fine, and you pay the cleaning lady to clean things, so she should clean them.
Earlier that morning, before I had gone out to buy the lilies, William had written me an
email, which I reread now.
Catherine, It was lovely to see you. I will be in touch very soon. Yours, Wm.
Even though I knew what it said, I reread my response: Look forward to hearing from
you. C.
Was my response too cold? Fernando used to call me cold. He’d even called me a bad
hugger once. My mother was cold. But no, it was fine. He would be in touch very soon.

I Googled him again. The thumbnail next to his bio showed William in a red tie, smiling
with those brilliant-white teeth.
“William Stockton, MK Capital. Head of Corporate Client Solutions. Mr. Stockton
served as Head of European Investment Banking at UBS, and prior to that, was Head of
European Rates Trading. Mr. Stockton holds an MA from Oxford University.”
He was smart. He was fashionable. He was practical. He was classy. And as the time
between yesterday and today widened toward dusk, he became smarter and more fashionable and
more practical, and classier, and taller, and a more caring dog owner. His gait, which I now
found a word for, was stately.
I sat back on the couch, folded the computer. Kids on the street played with a ball –
someone shrieking, “Arthur!” – and birds made noise, swarming the tree, and the traffic on
Seventh Avenue whirred like a distant stream, or like the hum of small and comforting
appliance. The noises of the city reminded me of its constant movement, and this soothed me.
Because I hated silence. Silence made me anxious.
Sundays also made me anxious. I hated Sundays more than anything. Every week, it was
like time stopped to show me how lonely I was. People meandered in lazy, loping strides, rudely
forgetting how sidewalk traffic works. They had no direction, no goals. It was brunch time and
family time and time to enjoy yourself, and it felt like an immense amount of pressure to be
happy.
I wasn’t unhappy, though, I reminded myself of that. Look at this house, how could you
be unhappy here?
I got up to look out the window – yes, there were the kids with the ball, one of them was
the famous actor’s son – and I reminded myself that my home and the light in my home were

beautiful and welcoming, and that I was open to new, great people in my life. It would happen.
And maybe – I thought and then un-thought; I would not get ahead of myself – great things were
already happening.
I moved back to the dining table and began to fill an online cart with Frette pillowcases. I
had been meaning to get some more for the guest room. These were sand-colored and Egyptian
cotton, a thousand thread count. I clicked to see a closer view. Buying fabrics online was hard –
it was better to touch them. But, returning things was so easy nowadays. You just put them back
in the bag. I often thought that a person could spend their entire life buying things and making
returns. I was glad I was not that person.

Susan emerged looking jet-lagged and dumbly contented. “I’m leaving. And I’m taking
the rest of the day off.”
“Sure you are,” I said. Susan was terrible at relaxing. She wouldn’t take the day off
unless she was bleeding from the head. This was another thing we might have had in common.
“Seriously.” She poured herself a glass of water. “That man has the magic touch.”
“I know.” I had been hovering the cursor over the Add To Cart button, and then I pressed
it. I turned around to find Susan gulping the last of the water in the glass. Her yellow hair was
sticking straight up from the middle of her head. She looked like a parakeet.
“Aaaaah.” She set the glass in the sink, and made her way over to her phone (a quick look
at the screen) and her yellow thing, which she put around her shoulders. She bent slowly to pick
her bag up off the floor, and started down the stairs. I followed her down, and smoothed her
parakeet hair on the way. “Your hair looks crazy, I’m helping you.”

Dan stood in the doorway on the second floor. “Dan, aaaaaaah,” Susan said. In the room,
I could see he had already changed the sheet. He was so good. “You’re a miracle.” She patted
him on the chest. As I watched her kiss his cheek, I thought Susan was a little touchy-feely with
Dan today, but then she kissed me and I remembered that no, Susan was like that with everyone.
“Call you later.” She hugged her yellow thing tighter around her little body as she made
her way down the last flight of stairs and out the red door. That was the one thing that wasn’t
white – the red front door.
Dan, mocking the experience of a more formal – or a Japanese? – massage, gave me a
short nod with prayer hands and motioned for me to enter. He could be pretty dorky.
He waited by the door as I changed behind the shinju panels. It felt nice to be in this
room. The windows were tinted to make the light feel bluer, and I’d chosen a nice thick carpet.
The towel folded on the black lacquer chair was warm from the sunlight through the window. I
didn’t really need to it because I knew Dan wouldn’t look, but I threw it around myself anyway. I
walked the few steps to the table, let the towel drop, and laid face down and looked at the carpet,
which, yes, had been a great choice.
“Okay,” I said, “ready.”
I heard his footsteps. Then I saw his feet – clean and manicured, a normal alignment of
nice-looking toes, a tattoo of a scorpion on his ankle. He smoothed the blanket over my back. It
felt wonderful to be touched so sweetly. Dan did have the magic touch. He just got it. He knew
how much pressure to apply and when. He knew what I wanted. From the first time he massaged
me, which had been about a year before, around when we had sold Eighty-Fourth Street, I knew I
needed him on the payroll. I wasn’t in love with the masseur I had before Dan anyway. Donald, a
rough Swede, was all business and no warmth. While I had been dating Fernando, I used Dan’s

touch as a point of comparison. During the week, I would tell myself Fernando was fine, and
then every Sunday, Dan would remind me that no, Fernando was seriously lacking in the touch
department.
Sometimes we liked to talk. With me on the table like that and Dan at work, he had more
nerve to talk about the things he might not have said if we were sitting face to face, and so did I.
Today, he said, “So, tell me more about this guy.” He ran his hands up and down my legs,
warming them.
“I mean, it’s just out of nowhere. He seems very put together.”
“That’s a good thing.”
Dan had this very non-judgmental nature that made me want to tell him things. I told him
about Herman and how he’d been so good with those kids at the park.
“I can see why you feel hopeful,” he said.
And then we said nothing for a while, and I drifted off. That was the other thing I liked
about Dan – he knew when to talk, and he also knew when to stop talking.
At some point, I may have noticed I was imagining that Dan’s hands were William’s
hands, and that Dan’s breath was William’s breath. With Fernando, I hadn’t done that. With
Fernando, all I could think was how I wished he would touch me like this. Fernando hadn’t been
love. He was a stand-in, he was filler. And he wasn’t even great filler. After we broke up, I was
finally able to admit that he smelled like deli meat most of the time. When Fernando wasn’t
around, I didn’t pine for him, I didn’t even think of him much. He was like a figurine I moved
around to the places in my life where I needed a plus one: Fernando in a tux at the ball, Fernando
in Sperry loafers on the boat, Fernando, the figurine-man who posed in pictures beside me.

AND
AFTER
MANY
DAYS
A N ove l

J OW H O R I L E

N E W YO R K

Ile_9781101903148_4p_all_r1.indd 3

8/12/15 8:45 AM

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either
are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is
entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Jowhor Ile
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Tim Duggan Books, an imprint of the
Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC,
New York.
www.crownpublishing.com
tim duggan books is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
tim duggan books and the Crown colophon are trademarks of
Penguin Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data
is available upon request.
ISBN 978-­1-­101-­90314-­8
eBook ISBN 978-­1-­101-­90315-­5
Printed in the United States of America
Book design by Lauren Dong
Jacket design by Michael Morris
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
First Edition

Ile_9781101903148_5p_all_r1.indd 4

10/16/15 1:24 PM

CHAPTER TWO

I

f you’d ever lived in Port Harcourt, you would

know what a wet, tiring month September could be. June and
July are heavy rain months. The rains stomp through the city,
throwing punches, felling trees, striking down electric poles
overnight across roads so that early-­bird motorists get stranded,
their headlights trapped in the predawn wetness, counting on
the help of passersby to move a fallen tree off the road, to pry
out tires stuck in loam. By early August everyone, even the
TV stations, celebrates the onset of “August break”: two dry
weeks of sharp sunlight, more or less. Wedding planners gauge
and take advantage. On Saturday mornings, Trans Amadi
Road clogs up with traffic. A tangle of cars, buses, trucks, and
taxi motorbikes storms out from Garrison Junction to Nwaja
Bridge, all the way to Elekahia. Various wedding parties run
late for the service, hurrying the other way across town toward
their reception venue.
Ajie once saw a bride, her dress blindingly white in the sunlight, her pineapple hairstyle tightly gelled and held down with
a tiara, alight from a black Benz with visible encouragement
from her cohort. They had flagged down an okada for her while
she snaked her way through the traffic with her maid of honor
on her tail. She hoisted up her satin dress (the maid of honor
holding on to the chapel train) and then heaved herself onto the
pillion of the motorbike to make her own wedding ceremony in

Ile_9781101903148_2p_all_r1.indd 11

6/5/15 7:46 AM

12 | JOWHOR I LE

time. There was the early gleam of sweat on her neck and forehead, and the bouquet of flowers in the grip of her left hand was
pink and yellow and plastic.
Evening air swells from blaring microphones as churches
set up camps in open fields for crusades and miracle revivals.
The crowds spill out on the field; parked cars litter the adjacent
roads. The congregation amasses before a makeshift stage with
a wooden lectern mounted at the center, banners tied up and
billowing behind it and all around. Voices rise in praise and
worship; clap-­
hand choruses with keyboard accompaniment
suffuse the cool evening air.
The heavy rains return soon after, but only briefly. By September they mellow. The skies open and drop water all day—­
drizzle this time, but the streets get flooded, drainages overflow,
okada men in rain capes hang about under the eaves of roadside shops, shielding their motorcycles from the water, ignoring
prospective passengers. Auntie Julie came in the drizzling rain
when she heard Paul had disappeared. She banged on the gate,
and when Ismaila let her in, she walked right past, her slippers
in her hand, her wrapper dripping water all over the floor of the
veranda as she made her way into the house.
She wasn’t the first person to visit after hearing about Paul.
Mr. Pepple, an integrated science teacher from Ma’s school, was
the first. He was a quiet-­looking man with veins running sideways on his face from forehead to temple. He lived somewhere
near Ordinance, not too far from the house, and Ma occasionally gave him lifts to Garrison Junction after work. He placed
his sandals neatly beside the doormat and Ma protested. “Ah-­
ah! Please come inside with your shoes, I beg you.” Mr. Pepple
still left his sandals by the door, came inside, and took a seat.
Worry knotted his brows and thickened the veins that ran

Ile_9781101903148_2p_all_r1.indd 12

6/5/15 7:46 AM

A N D A F T E R M A N Y D AY S   |   1 3

from his temples into his receding hair. He must have heard
everything there was to be heard from Ma, but he found it necessary to ask, “Any news?”
“No,” Ma said, “we are still waiting.” The police required
forty-­
eight hours before they could declare Paul a missing
­person.
“God forbid!” he spat out. He looked like the sort of man
for whom all strong emotions came out looking like anger. Ajie
couldn’t tell if he was angry that Paul was missing or angry
with Paul for going missing or whether he was angry at all.
Whichever way, it was clear his sympathy was with Ma.
“He can’t be missing,” Mr. Pepple said with conviction, relaxing his shoulders. “That’s not your portion, my sister.”
“He told his brother he was going over to our neighbor’s
house just across the road,” Ma explained, looking at Ajie. Ajie
confirmed with a nod. He was the last person to see Paul, the
last person Paul spoke to; they always returned to that moment
and settled on it as if the mystery had to be unearthed from
there. “But our neighbors traveled over a week ago . . .” She
drifted off. “I don’t understand it. What would he tell a lie for?
Or maybe he was going somewhere else and said that in error?”
Mr. Pepple allowed some time to pass before he leaned over
for the bottle of malt on the tray before him. He had said he
didn’t need a glass; he held the brown bottle by the neck and
tilted his head back. The man’s throat worked itself up and
down as he swallowed another mouthful of the sweet, dark
malt drink. Then he took a breather and rested the bottle on the
tray. “Does he follow bad friends?” Mr. Pepple asked.
“No,” Ma replied, “Paul is not like that.”
Ajie was irritated by Mr. Pepple’s silly questions, but he
couldn’t help noticing how tired the man looked in his ­fading

Ile_9781101903148_2p_all_r1.indd 13

6/5/15 7:46 AM

14 | JOWHOR I LE

blue shirt: a little disheveled, like an item picked up and dropped
all of a sudden.
“How are the roads?” Ma asked. Over the last few days,
there had been student demonstrations that had gradually escalated. Apart from the roadblocks set up by the students, police
vans were burned, students shot at—­shot dead—­no one was
sure exactly what had happened.
“No problem at all,” Mr. Pepple answered. “I think the police have calmed things down a bit. Nothing happened in the
house?” he asked. By which he meant had there been a quarrel
that might have led to Paul disappearing. Ma said no again, her
hands faceup on her lap. There were those stories of children
who fell out with their parents or stole things from home and ran
off with friends for a week or two. Like the prodigal son, they always returned, disgraced, in a bad state, and begging for mercy.
“Did Paul carry anything, a bag or something? Who saw
him when he was leaving?” Mr. Pepple was asking all these
questions when Bibi pushed a thick encyclopedia off the dining
table, and it hit the floor with a loud thud that made everyone
jump. Ma asked Bibi what that was, and Bibi gave some indistinct response. Ma continued, explaining to Mr. Pepple that
Paul had gone with his school bag. She further explained that
it wasn’t unusual. Paul sometimes had cassettes, videotapes,
magazines, books, or video games in his bag when he went over
to see his friend.
“Just number eight here,” Ma said, pointing in the general
direction of their neighbor’s. Ajie’s eyes followed the stretch of
her hand as she pointed to the parlor wall, and he imagined
Paul trapped within it, hearing them worry aloud about him
but unable to speak or free himself.

Ile_9781101903148_2p_all_r1.indd 14

6/5/15 7:46 AM

A N D A F T E R M A N Y D AY S   |   1 5

Disbelief hung across Mr. Pepple’s face. Ajie would come to
spot this reflex in people—­their keen questions, then the sudden
letting go, as if something in the story didn’t add up but they
were prepared to accept it all the same.
Auntie Julie wasn’t like this. She fell into Ma’s arms once she
got into the parlor and cried out with a loud voice. Her hands
gripped Ma around the waist. Ma stood stiff in Auntie Julie’s
grip, her own clothes taking up water.
“Come and change your clothes, Julie,” Ma said, “before
cold enters your body.” When they came out, Auntie Julie was
wearing one of Ma’s boubous, made from green adire. The
loose gown with wide-­open arms seemed a little too big for her.
Julie sat on the sofa and shivered her legs while Ma went
into the kitchen to make her a hot drink. She asked Bibi to get
her a blanket from the bedroom, then she began talking aloud,
to no one in particular, about how devastating it must be to
carry a child in your womb for nine months and then this.
These children have no sense. How could he just go somewhere
without telling anyone? Where did he go? They just don’t understand what a mother feels. Her soliloquy was about to flow
into mournful singing when Ma came out of the kitchen with a
steaming mug of Bournvita. She handed Auntie Julie the chocolate drink and warned her that it was hot.
Auntie Julie took the mug from Ma. “Thank you,” she murmured, and immediately placed it on the side stool as if the
drink were getting in the way of something much more important. “These children.” Auntie Julie sighed, looking at Bibi and
then Ajie as if they might have it in them to behave the same
way Paul had. If their brother could act in this manner, God
only knew what to expect from the pair of them. Ma, already

Ile_9781101903148_2p_all_r1.indd 15

6/5/15 7:46 AM

16 | JOWHOR I LE

burdened with her own worry, had to play consoler, silent arbiter in the room, and protector of the two children; her voice
also took on a warm braveness to soothe Auntie Julie.
“It’s okay,” she said, “Paul will come home. We will find
him.”
“Hmm.” Auntie Julie nodded. “How many days now?”
Ma put her fingers up. “Nearly three days now. About
twelve-­thirty Monday afternoon was when he left.”
“Three days!” Auntie Julie’s voice hit the ceiling. She shook
three fingers in front of Ma’s face. “Jesus Christ! I thought it
was only last night. You know these quiet ones. They are the
ones who surprise you.” Bibi left the parlor. Ajie just sat there
looking up at the clock. They were expecting Bendic from the
police station.

Later that night, after Bendic had returned from the sta-

tion, they all sat in silence before the television. Auntie Julie was
sunk into the sofa, folded inside Ma’s oversize green boubou,
the heavy embroideries snaking their way all around the neck.
She shook her legs rhythmically where she sat, then made a fist
and held up her jaw with it. Ma went into the kitchen, and Ajie
heard her lock the back door. She did not return to the parlor
immediately, and Ajie wondered what she was doing. All evening, her face had a calm, steely cast while she made dinner,
and called Bibi every now and then to pass her that spoon or
that ladle, or to “sit down and pound the pepper.”
Ma was not the type of woman, Ajie thought, you could find
brooding with her hand under her chin or weeping silently into
the kitchen sink. She was their mother, a biology teacher, the
vice principal of a boys’ school that once was the most notori-

Ile_9781101903148_2p_all_r1.indd 16

6/5/15 7:46 AM

A N D A F T E R M A N Y D AY S   |   1 7

ous in town. A school she had turned around single-­handedly
in a year. Twice, the parents’ association had opposed and pressured the Ministry of Education to reverse her transfer. Twice,
they had canvassed and rallied funds to keep the parent/teacher
scheme she’d set up from going under.
Ma returned to the parlor, wiping her hand on a napkin,
just as the final news recap came on at eleven. Government,
the newsreader said, had gone into dialogue with the university students regarding their grievances. All citizens, the man
continued, were being admonished to “give peace a chance, to
refrain from violent, nefarious activities, and to engage in dialogue with government for the betterment of the state.”
The national anthem was played by a full military band. On
the TV screen was a fluttering flag hoisted high: bands of rich
green on either end of the flag and a white band in the middle
with the coat of arms printed on it. The pledge was recited by a
choir of unseen children, and then the station went off the air.
There was silence and intermittent bursts of conversation.
All Ajie could think of was Auntie Julie weeping that afternoon
as though Paul were dead; Bibi sitting for so long in the dining
area until it was dark and she became one with the woolly shadows of the shelves. And now there was Bendic with a newspaper
adrift in his lap, although he had put his glasses away. Auntie Julie shifted in her seat. She let out a deep sigh and leaned
back in the sofa. For a moment she seemed to have dropped into
sleep, and then the song came out of her in a low stream, as if
from some secret speakers hidden beneath her seat. Her eyes
were now closed.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceaseth
His mercies never come to an eeeeeend . . .

Ile_9781101903148_2p_all_r1.indd 17

6/5/15 7:46 AM

18 | JOWHOR I LE

Her voice glided over the high notes and her hands were
held together in a tight ball, between her legs, on the slope of
her gown. Bendic leaned back and watched. Bibi, Ma, Ajie, all
sat as if uncertain of their position—­should they join in or remain mere spectators? Were they being called on to take roles
in this play they weren’t familiar with? Ajie felt his bladder fill
up, and he knew he would have to get up and go to the bathroom. Auntie Julie leaned to one side as she rummaged through
the pocket of the boubou, the song still coming out of her, and
brought out a white hankie that she spread out over her head.
She looked at Bibi in a way that perhaps should have persuaded
Bibi to find a covering for her head as a woman in the posture of prayer, but Bibi sat there, her lips barely moving. The
song was common enough, even for irregular churchgoers. Ma
joined in. Ajie stood up, looked at Bendic as if asking to be excused, then pointed toward the bathroom. Auntie Julie made a
smooth segue into a church chorus:
He can never never change
He can never never change
He can never never change
Jesus the same forever
He can never never change
In the bathroom, Ajie looked in the mirror and thought his
face looked bigger than it really was. He heard Ma’s voice rise
as the singing continued. They sang the same chorus over and
over, in different languages—­Kalabari, Igbo, Yoruba, Ogoni.
Ma’s voice strained over the high notes, but she kept on, steady,
pushing through by the sheer strength of her lungs. Her voice
stood apart, raw and singular, like a howl in the forest. Ajie

Ile_9781101903148_3p_all_r1.indd 18

7/28/15 9:56 AM

A N D A F T E R M A N Y D AY S   |   1 9

lifted the toilet lid and sat down. After the singing had died
down, he stood up and flushed the toilet and then returned before the mirror to brush his teeth. He heard Auntie Julie say
good night, and then the slow slap-­slap of her rubber slippers as
she walked past the bathroom door and down the corridor. He
didn’t hear Bibi leaving the parlor, but he heard the sharp click
of her door when it closed.
Bendic was talking to Ma now. Ma interrupted, her voice
tense, impatient. “No mortuary, please, Ben. You can check
hospitals. Emergency units.” He heard Ma snap her fingers.
“God forbid—­what are you thinking?” Bendic’s low voice kept
saying something back to her.
Ajie bared his teeth before the mirror the way people did in
toothpaste commercials. He picked up Paul’s toothbrush and
ran his thumb over the bristles. Moist. He put it back in the
cup. He then used his fingers to push the corners of his lips up
as if to pull a smiley face. If something really bad is happening,
Ajie thought, is it possible to try to smile, even if it is only a
pretend smile? And if you are able to smile when “something
really bad” is happening, does that count? Could that be a sign
that things will turn around for good? He pushed the corners
of his mouth upward. This time, three front teeth showed. He
picked up Paul’s brush again and ran his thumb over the bristles
but wasn’t sure anymore if the moisture was from the brush
itself or just his own fingers.

Ajie awoke from a dream and looked across to Paul’s bed,

and there he was, carelessly asleep, covered in a blanket. He was
lying on his chest with his face down, his hands folded over the
pillow. Then he turned onto his side, drew up his legs, and held

Ile_9781101903148_2p_all_r1.indd 19

6/5/15 7:46 AM

20 | JOWHOR I LE

the blanket close around his neck; he stretched out his long legs
across the bed and threw a sleepy arm over his face. Now he
was on his front, with his legs drawn up under him like someone attempting to crouch. Then he lay still for a while. A person
under a blanket could sometimes look like a camel, a camel
with its hump, or a pitched tent under a dark desert sky. Paul
stirred. Then the inky edges of the blanket became vague and
wavy, as if he weren’t there anymore. Outside, the moon moved
and threw a light on the empty pillow. Ajie kept staring at the
bed, willing Paul’s form back on it, but he couldn’t remember
how Paul used to look while lying on his bed.
When Ajie got up in the morning, it was already bright, and
he heard Ismaila’s voice carry through from the front of the
house, where he washed the car. The singing ended. Ajie didn’t
imagine that singing of any sort could occur when no one knew
where Paul was.
Ma and Bendic didn’t leave early for work, as they used to.
On the windowsill beside Paul’s bed (Paul had the window bed,
since he was older), the blue beetle-­shaped digital clock sat, its
screen facing outside. What time was it? The forgotten dream
came back to him. He was sitting with Auntie Julie by a well.
She stood up to leave, then tripped over a bucket and fell into
the well. He looked into the well and saw her head bobbing,
water splashing around her. She wasn’t shouting or crying for
help. She just bobbed up, down, up, down, kicking and splashing the water with her hands. As if it were all planned, Ajie
lifted the lid and covered the well and hooked it shut with a
piece of metal. Muffled echoes of his name began to come from
below, like someone shouting into a pillow. As he walked away
from the scene, he looked up, and there was Paul sitting high in
a nearby tree, looking down at him with accusation in his eyes.

Ile_9781101903148_3p_all_r1.indd 20

7/28/15 9:56 AM

A N D A F T E R M A N Y D AY S   |   2 1

It annoyed Ajie, now that he was awake, that it didn’t occur
to him to ask Paul where he had been those four days when everyone was looking for him.

Auntie Julie was getting ready to leave when Ajie walked

into the parlor. She had changed into her own clothes and was
holding a little bag in her hand. “You have woken up. Your
sister is at the back of the house,” Auntie Julie said somberly, as
if Bibi were just the right person for him to see now that he was
out of bed.
His memory of Auntie Julie began with conflict. When he
was either four or five, Auntie Julie came to visit one day, and
while Ma and Bendic talked with another visitor in the parlor,
Auntie Julie jostled the children into the kitchen to interrogate
them about what she said was their complete lack of respect.
She shut the door behind her and right away asked, “Why do
you people call your father by his name?” At first no one moved
to answer. She scanned their faces disapprovingly and then focused on Paul’s. “You cannot answer me?”
“Our father’s name is Benedict,” Bibi offered. “We, we call
him Bendic, and—­”
Auntie Julie cut her off. “What is the difference?” she asked,
but didn’t wait to get an answer. “You children have no fear
at all. I see the easy hand with which your parents are raising
you.”
“Bendic hasn’t complained about it,” Paul began slowly,
“and that’s what we have always called him.”
“Paul!” Auntie Julie shot back. “Don’t you have any sense?
You are the eldest, yet you cannot set a good example. I don’t
know what your mother teaches you. A man like your father,

Ile_9781101903148_2p_all_r1.indd 21

6/5/15 7:46 AM

22 | JOWHOR I LE

look at his age, look at you. Can’t you see that he is old enough
to be your grandfather?” She paused and pouted. “Okay, that
aside, a big man like your father, don’t you see how other people greet him? Yet you open your mouth and call him Bendic,
Bendic, Bendic. Don’t you hear what other children call their
fathers?”
At this point Ajie was fed up and hoped Bibi would say
something out of turn, blurt out words in exasperation, but she
didn’t.
“If you want to be respectful children,” Auntie Julie continued, “you must call him Daddy, Papa, Pa. Choose one, but this
Bendic rubbish must stop. Today!”
She looked at Paul to see if the matter could be left there, if
he could be trusted this time to enforce the new rule. She stood
over them and their little eyes flashed back at her: three tadpoles and one big fish. Auntie Julie called Bendic “sir,” Ismaila
the gateman and Marcus the driver both called Bendic “Oga,”
as they should, because he was their boss. Ma called him Ben,
or Benedict sometimes. But the children called him Bendic. Ma
said one day when Paul was about two, their father came in
from work, and Paul jumped to his feet and called him “Ben-­
dic.” Bendic and Ma were so happy that their formerly taciturn son had eventually found his tongue, they cooed the word
back at him, encouraging him to say it again and again, and the
name stuck. Bibi and Ajie took it up when they came along.
For some reason, Ajie’s resentment of Auntie Julie sharpened
that morning as he walked through the kitchen to the back of
the house, where Bibi was sitting on the septic tank.
What sort of person, Ajie thought as he turned the doorknob that led to the backyard, would think giving their father

Ile_9781101903148_2p_all_r1.indd 22

6/5/15 7:46 AM

A N D A F T E R M A N Y D AY S   |   2 3

an endearing name was equal to taking away the respect that
was due him? What sort of person would force them to call
their father Daddy, like all those silly children at school with
their stupid plastic cartoon lunch boxes? It riled him even to
think that someone like Auntie Julie could survive, was allowed
to survive, in a world where his own brother could go missing
for days.
That afternoon, when Auntie Julie had cornered them in the
kitchen, they had all nodded, but her request was denied, firmly,
silently. There was no Daddy, Pa, or Papa in their mouths. She
mistook their silence for acquiescence; she rubbed their heads
and pulled their little forms close in a kind of embrace, smothering their faces against her wrapper, her squishing blouse. The
heavily sequined wrapper tied on her waist felt lukewarm on
Ajie’s cheeks. The smell of camphor (common with clothes left
for too long at the bottom of a trunk) made Ajie feel malarial,
sick enough to turn out his bowels in a feverish bout. He held
his breath, counting and waiting for the embrace to end. He
was on four and a half when she finally let go and he stood on
his own feet. He looked down and saw her feet: the open front
of her high-­heeled sandals, the chipped red polish on her big
toenails.
When Ajie opened the back door, he could hear Auntie Julie
talking to Ismaila as she left. Bibi was sitting on the concrete
slab of the soakway, with her back to the house, looking over
at the neighbors’ compound. The mango tree by the fence was
thickly green with leaves but was without fruits.
“Bibi,” he said as he came down the steps, “Bibi.”
Bibi did not respond.
“You mean he didn’t say anything at all before he left?” she

Ile_9781101903148_2p_all_r1.indd 23

6/5/15 7:46 AM

24 | JOWHOR I LE

asked without turning her back. “He must have said something
to you.”
Ajie stopped dead in his tracks, and guilt rose like tide­
water up to his chest and made breathing very difficult. If anyone could have spared Paul from going missing, it should have
been him.

Ile_9781101903148_2p_all_r1.indd 24

6/5/15 7:46 AM

Lilac Girls
A  Novel  

Martha  Hall  Kelly  
Ballantine  Books  
New  York  
 

 

Part  One  

Chapter  1  

Caroline
September  1939  

If  I’d  known  I  was  about  to  meet  the  man  who’d  shatter  me  like  bone  china  on  terra-­‐cotta,  I  
would  have  slept  in.  Instead,  I  roused  our  florist,  Mr.  Sitwell,  from  his  bed  to  make  a  
boutonnière.  My  first  consulate  gala  was  no  time  to  stand  on  ceremony.  
I  joined  the  riptide  of  the  great  unwashed  moving  up  Fifth  Avenue.  Men  in  gray-­‐
felted  fedoras  pushed  by  me,  the  morning  papers  in  their  attachés  bearing  the  last  benign  
headlines  of  the  decade.  There  was  no  storm  gathering  in  the  east  that  day,  no  portent  of  
things  to  come.  The  only  ominous  sign  from  the  direction  of  Europe  was  the  scent  of  slack  
water  wafting  off  the  East  River.  
As  I  neared  our  building  at  the  corner  of  Fifth  Avenue  and  Forty-­‐ninth  Street,  I  felt  
Roger  watching  from  the  window  above.  He’d  fired  people  for  a  lot  less  than  being  twenty  
minutes  late,  but  the  one  time  of  year  the  New  York  elite  opened  their  wallets  and  
pretended  they  cared  about  France  was  no  time  for  skimpy  boutonnières.  
I  turned  at  the  corner,  the  morning  sun  alive  in  the  gold-­‐leaf  letters  chiseled  in  the  
cornerstone:  LA  MASION  FRANÇAISE.  The  French  Building,  home  to  the  French  Consulate,  stood  
2  
 

side  by  side  with  the  British  Empire  Building,  facing  Fifth  Avenue,  part  of  Rockefeller  
Center,  Junior  Rockefeller’s  new  complex  of  granite  and  limestone.  Many  foreign  consulates  
kept  offices  there  then,  resulting  in  a  great  stew  of  international  diplomacy.  
“All  the  way  to  the  back  and  face  the  front,”  said  Cuddy,  our  elevator  operator.  
Mr.  Rockefeller  handpicked  the  elevator  boys,  screening  for  manners  and  good  
looks.  Cuddy  was  heavy  on  the  looks,  though  his  hair  was  already  salt-­‐and-­‐peppered,  his  
body  in  a  hurry  to  age.  
Cuddy  fixed  his  gaze  on  the  illuminated  numbers  above  the  doors.  “You  got  a  crowd  
up  there  today,  Miss  Ferriday.  Pia  said  there’s  two  new  boats  in.”  
“Delightful,”  I  said.  
Cuddy  brushed  something  off  the  sleeve  of  his  navy-­‐blue  uniform  jacket.  “Another  
late  one  tonight?”  
For  the  fastest  elevators  in  the  world,  ours  still  took  forever.  “I’ll  be  gone  by  five.  
Gala  tonight.”  
I  loved  my  job.  Grandmother  Woolsey  had  started  the  work  tradition  in  our  family,  
nursing  soldiers  on  the  battlefield  at  Gettysburg.  But  my  volunteer  post  as  head  of  family  
assistance  for  the  French  Consulate  wasn’t  work  really.  Loving  all  things  French  was  simply  
genetic  for  me.  My  father  may  have  been  half-­‐Irish,  but  his  heart  belonged  to  France.  Plus,  
Mother  had  inherited  an  apartment  in  Paris,  where  we  spent  every  August,  so  I  felt  at  home  
there.  
The  elevator  stopped.  Even  through  the  closed  doors,  we  could  hear  a  terrific  din  of  
raised  voices.  A  shiver  ran  through  me.  
“Third  floor,”  Cuddy  called  out.  “French  Consulate.  Watch  your—”  
3  
 

Once  the  doors  parted,  the  noise  overpowered  all  polite  speech.  The  hallway  outside  
our  reception  area  was  packed  so  tightly  with  people  one  could  scarcely  step  through.  Both  
the  Normandie  and  the  Ile  de  France,  two  of  France’s  premiere  ocean  liners,  had  landed  that  
morning  in  New  York  Harbor,  packed  with  wealthy  passengers  fleeing  the  uncertainty  in  
France.  Once  the  all-­‐clear  horn  signaled  and  they  were  free  to  disembark,  the  ships’  elite  
streamed  to  the  consulate  to  iron  out  visa  problems  and  other  sticky  issues.  
I  squeezed  into  the  smoky  reception  area,  past  ladies  in  Paris’s  newest  day  dresses  
who  stood  gossiping  in  a  lovely  cloud  of  Arpège,  the  sea  spray  still  in  their  hair.  The  people  
in  this  group  were  accustomed  to  being  shadowed  by  a  butler  with  a  crystal  ashtray  and  a  
champagne  flute.  Bellboys  in  scarlet  jackets  from  the  Normandie  went  toe-­‐to-­‐toe  with  their  
black-­‐jacketed  counterparts  from  the  Île  de  France.  I  wedged  one  shoulder  through  the  
crowd,  toward  our  secretary’s  desk  at  the  back  of  the  room,  and  my  chiffon  scarf  snagged  
on  the  clasp  of  one  ravishing  creature’s  pearls.  As  I  worked  to  extract  it,  the  intercom  
buzzed  unanswered.  
Roger.  
I  pressed  on  through,  felt  a  pat  on  my  behind,  and  turned  to  see  a  midshipman  flash  
a  plaquey  smile.  
“Gardons  nos  mains  pour  nous-­‐memmes,”  I  said.  Let’s  keep  our  hands  to  ourselves.  
The  boy  raised  his  arm  above  the  crowd  and  dangled  his  Normandie  stateroom  key.  
At  least  he  wasn’t  the  over-­‐sixty  type  I  usually  attracted.  
I  made  it  to  our  secretary’s  desk,  where  she  sat,  head  down,  typing.  
“Bonjour,  Pia.”  

4  
 

Roger’s  cousin,  a  sloe-­‐eyed  boy  of  eighteen,  was  sitting  on  Pia’s  desk,  legs  crossed.  
He  held  his  cigarette  in  the  air  as  he  picked  through  a  box  of  chocolates,  Pia’s  favorite  
breakfast.  My  inbox  on  her  desk  was  already  stacked  with  case  folders.  
“Vraiment?  What  is  so  good  about  it?”  she  said,  not  lifting  her  head.  
Pia  was  much  more  than  a  secretary.  We  all  wore  many  hats,  and  hers  included  
signing  in  new  clients  and  establishing  a  folder  for  each,  typing  up  Roger’s  considerable  
correspondence,  and  deciphering  the  massive  flood  of  daily  Morse-­‐code  pulses  that  was  the  
lifeblood  of  our  office.  
“Why  is  it  so  hot  in  here?”  I  said.  “The  phone  is  ringing,  Pia.”  
She  plucked  a  chocolate  from  the  box.  “It  keeps  doing  that.”  
Pia  attracted  beaux  as  if  she  emitted  a  frequency  only  males  could  detect.  She  was  
attractive  in  a  feral  way,  but  I  suspected  her  popularity  was  due  in  part  to  her  tight  
sweaters.  
“Can  you  take  some  of  my  cases  today,  Pia?”  
“Roger  says  I  can’t  leave  this  chair.”  She  broke  the  shell  of  the  chocolate’s  underside  
with  her  manicured  thumb,,stalking  the  strawberry  crèmes.  “He  also  wants  to  see  you  right  
away,  but  I  think  the  woman  on  the  sofa  slept  in  the  hallway  last  night.”  Pia  flapped  one  half  
of  a  one-­‐hundred-­‐dollar  bill  at  me.  “And  the  fatty  with  the  dogs  says  he’ll  give  you  the  other  
half  if  you  take  him  first.”  She  nodded  toward  the  well-­‐fed  older  couple  near  my  office  door,  
each  holding  a  brace  of  gray-­‐muzzled  dachshunds.  
Like  Pia’s,  my  job  description  was  wide-­‐ranging.  It  included  attending  to  the  needs  
of  French  citizens  here  in  New  York—often  families  fallen  on  hard  times—and  overseeing  
my  French  Families  Fund,  a  charity  effort  through  which  I  sent  comfort  boxes  to  French  
5  
 

orphans  overseas.  I’d  just  retired  from  an  almost  two-­‐decade-­‐long  stint  on  Broadway,  and  
this  felt  easy  by  comparison.  It  certainly  involved  less  unpacking  of  trunks.  
My  boss,  Roger  Fortier,  appeared  in  his  office  doorway.  
“Caroline,  I  need  you  now.  Bonnet’s  canceled.”  
“You  can’t  be  serious,  Roger.”  The  news  came  like  a  punch.  I’d  secured  the  French  
foreign  minister  as  our  gala  keynote  speaker  months  before.  
“It’s  not  easy  being  the  French  foreign  minister  right  now,”  he  called  over  his  
shoulder  as  he  went  back  inside.  
I  stepped  into  my  office  and  flipped  through  the  Wheeldex  on  my  desk.  Was  
Mother’s  Buddhist-­‐monk  friend  Ajahn  Chah  free  that  night?  
“Caroline—”  Roger  called.  I  grabbed  my  Wheeldex  and  hurried  to  his  office,  avoiding  
the  couple  with  the  dachshunds,  who  were  trying  their  best  to  look  tragic.  
“Why  were  you  late  this  morning?”  Roger  asked.  “Pia’s  been  here  for  two  hours  
already.”  
As  consul  general,  Roger  Fortier  ruled  from  the  corner  suite  with  its  commanding  
view  of  Rockefeller  Plaza  and  the  Promenade  Cafe.  Normally  the  famous  skating  rink  
occupied  that  sunken  spot,  but  the  rink  was  closed  for  the  summer,  the  space  now  filled  
with  café  tables  and  tuxedoed  waiters  rushing  about  with  aprons  to  their  ankles.  Beyond,  
Paul  Manship’s  massive  golden  Prometheus  fell  to  earth,  holding  his  stolen  fire  aloft.  
Behind  it,  the  RCA  Building  shot  up  seventy  floors  into  the  sapphire  sky.  Roger  had  a  lot  in  
common  with  the  imposing  male  figure  of  Wisdom  chiseled  above  the  building’s  entrance.  
The  furrowed  brow.  The  beard.  The  angry  eyes.  
“I  stopped  for  Bonnet’s  boutonnière—”  
6  
 

“Oh,  that’s  worth  keeping  half  of  France  waiting.”  Roger  bit  into  a  doughnut,  and  
powdered  sugar  cascaded  down  his  beard.  Despite  what  might  kindly  be  called  a  husky  
figure,  he  was  never  at  a  loss  for  female  companions.  
His  desk  was  heaped  with  folders,  security  documents,  and  dossiers  on  missing  
French  citizens.  According  to  the  French  Consulate  Handbook,  his  job  was  “to  assist  French  
nationals  in  New  York,  in  the  event  of  theft,  loss  of  property,  serious  illness,  or  arrest  and  
with  issues  related  to  birth  certificates,  adoption,  and  lost  or  stolen  documents;  to  plan  
visits  of  French  officials  and  fellow  diplomats;  and  to  assist  with  political  difficulties  and  
natural  disasters.”  The  troubles  in  Europe  provided  plenty  of  work  for  us  in  all  those  
categories,  if  you  counted  Hitler  as  a  natural  disaster.  
“I  have  cases  to  get  back  to,  Roger—”  
He  sent  a  manila  folder  skidding  across  the  polished  conference  table.  “Not  only  do  
we  have  no  speaker;  I  was  up  half  the  night  rewriting  Bonnet’s  speech.  Had  to  sidestep  
Roosevelt  letting  France  buy  American  planes.”  
“France  should  be  able  to  buy  all  the  planes  they  want.”  
“We’re  raising  money  here,  Caroline.  It’s  not  the  time  to  annoy  the  isolationists.  
Especially  the  rich  ones.”  
“They  don’t  support  France  anyway.”  
“We  don’t  need  any  more  bad  press.  Is  the  U.S.  too  cozy  with  France?  Will  that  push  
Germany  and  Russia  closer?  I  can  barely  finish  a  third  course  without  being  interrupted  by  
a  reporter.  And  we  can’t  mention  the  Rockefellers  .  .  .  Don’t  want  another  call  from  Junior.  
Guess  that’ll  happen  anyway  now  that  Bonnet  canceled.”  
“It’s  a  disaster,  Roger.”  
7  
 

“May  need  to  scrap  the  whole  thing.”  Roger  raked  his  long  fingers  through  his  hair,  
digging  fresh  trenches  through  the  Brylcreem.  
“Refund  forty  thousand  dollars?  What  about  the  French  Families  Fund?”  This  was  
my  pet  cause,  an  offshoot  from  Mother’s  friend  Mme  Mitterand’s  American  and  French  
Children’s  League.  “I’m  already  operating  on  fumes.  Plus,  we’ve  paid  for  ten  pounds  of  
Waldorf  salad—”  
“They  call  that  salad?”  Roger  flipped  through  his  contact  cards,  half  of  them  illegible  
and  littered  with  cross  outs.  “It’s  pathetique  .  .  .  just  chopped  apples  and  celery.  And  those  
soggy  walnuts  .  .  .”  
I  scoured  my  Wheeldex  in  search  of  celebrity  candidates.  Mother  and  I  knew  Julia  
Marlowe,  the  famous  actress,  but  she  was  touring  Europe.  “How  about  Peter  Patout?  
Mother’s  people  have  used  him.”  
“The  architect?”  
“Of  the  whole  World’s  Fair.  They  have  that  seven-­‐foot  robot.”  
“Boring,”  he  said,  slapping  his  silver  letter  opener  against  his  palm.  
I  flipped  to  the  L’s.  “How  about  Captain  Lehude?”  
“Of  the  Normandie?  Are  you  serious?  He’s  paid  to  be  dull.”  
“You  can’t  just  discount  every  suggestion  out  of  hand,  Roger.  How  about  Paul  
Rodierre?  Betty  says  everyone’s  talking  about  him.”  
Roger  pursed  his  lips,  always  a  good  sign.  “The  actor?  I  saw  his  new  play  in  
previews.  He’s  good.  Tall  and  attractive,  if  you  go  for  that  look.  Fast  metabolism,  of  course.”  
“At  least  we  know  he  can  memorize  a  script.”  
“He’s  a  bit  of  a  loose  cannon.  And  married  too,  so  don’t  get  any  ideas.”  
8  
 

“I’m  through  with  men,  Roger,”  I  said.  At  thirty-­‐seven,  I’d  resigned  myself  to  
singledom.  
“Not  sure  Rodierre’ll  do  it.  See  who  you  can  get,  but  make  sure  they  stick  to  the  
script.  No  Roosevelt—”  
“No  Rockefellers,”  I  finished.  
Between  cases,  I  called  around  to  various  last-­‐minute  possibilities,  ending  up  with  
one  option,  Paul  Rodierre.  He  was  in  New  York  appearing  in  a  new  musical  review  at  the  
Broadhurst  Theatre,  The  Streets  of  Paris,  Carmen  Miranda’s  cyclonic  Broadway  debut.  
I  phoned  the  William  Morris  Agency  and  was  told  they’d  check  and  call  me  back.  Ten  
minutes  later,  M.  Rodierre’s  agent  told  me  the  theater  was  dark  that  night  and  that,  though  
his  client  did  not  own  evening  clothes,  he  was  deeply  honored  by  our  request  to  host  the  
gala  that  evening.  He’d  meet  me  at  the  Waldorf  to  discuss  details.  Our  apartment  on  East  
Fiftieth  Street  was  a  stone’s  throw  from  the  Waldorf,  so  I  rushed  there  to  change  into  
Mother’s  black  Chanel  dress.  
I  found  M.  Rodierre  seated  at  a  café  table  in  the  Waldorf’s  Peacock  Alley  bar  adjacent  
to  the  lobby  as  the  two-­‐ton  bronze  clock  sounded  its  lovely  Westminster  Cathedral  chime  
on  the  half  hour.  Gala  guests  in  their  finest  filtered  in,  headed  for  the  Grand  Ballroom  
upstairs.  
“M.  Rodierre?”  I  said.  
Roger  was  right  about  the  attractive  part.  The  first  thing  a  person  notices  about  Paul  
Rodierre,  after  the  initial  jolt  of  his  physical  beauty,  is  the  remarkable  smile.  
“How  can  I  thank  you  for  doing  this  so  last  minute,  Monsieur?”  

9  
 

He  unfolded  himself  from  his  chair,  presenting  a  build  better  suited  to  rowing  crew  
on  the  Charles  than  playing  Broadway.  He  attempted  to  kiss  my  cheek,  but  I  extended  my  
hand  to  him,  and  he  shook  it.  It  was  nice  to  meet  a  man  my  height.  
“My  pleasure,”  he  said.  
His  attire  was  the  issue:  green  trousers,  an  aubergine  velvet  sports  jacket,  brown  
suede  shoes,  and  worst  of  all,  a  black  shirt.  Only  priests  and  fascists  wore  black  shirts.  And  
gangsters,  of  course.  
“Do  you  want  to  change?”  I  resisted  the  urge  to  tidy  his  hair,  which  was  long  enough  
to  pull  back  with  a  rubber  band.  “Shave  perhaps?”  According  to  his  agent,  M.  Rodierre  was  a  
guest  at  the  hotel,  so  his  razor  sat  just  a  few  stories  overhead.  
“This  is  what  I  wear,”  he  said  with  a  shrug.  Typical  actor.  Why  hadn’t  I  known  
better?  The  parade  of  guests  en  route  to  the  ballroom  was  growing,  the  women  stunning  in  
their  finery,  every  man  in  tails  and  patent  leather  oxfords  or  calf  opera  pumps.  
“This  is  my  first  gala,”  I  said.  “The  consulate’s  one  night  to  raise  money.  It’s  white  
tie.”  Would  he  fit  into  father’s  old  tux?  The  inseam  would  be  right,  but  it  would  be  much  too  
tight  in  the  shoulders.  
“Are  you  always  this,  well,  energized,  Miss  Ferriday?”  
“Well,  here  in  New  York,  individuality  is  not  always  appreciated.”  I  handed  him  the  
stapled  sheets.  “I’m  sure  you’re  eager  to  see  the  script.”  
He  handed  it  back.  “No,  merci.”  
I  pushed  it  back  into  his  hands.  “But  the  consul  general  himself  wrote  it.”  
“Tell  me  again  why  I’m  doing  this?”  

10  
 

“It’s  to  benefit  the  French  Families  Fund.  To  assist  displaced  French  citizens  all  year,  
plus  we  help  orphans  back  in  France  whose  parents  have  been  lost  for  any  number  of  
reasons.  With  all  the  uncertainty  abroad,  we’re  one  reliable  source  of  clothes  and  food.  
Plus,  the  Rockefellers  will  be  there  tonight.”  
He  paged  through  the  speech.  “They  could  write  a  check  and  avoid  this  whole  thing.”  
“They’re  among  our  kindest  donors,  but  please  don’t  reference  them.  Or  President  
Roosevelt.  Or  the  planes  the  U.S.  sold  France.  Some  of  our  guests  tonight  love  France,  of  
course,  but  would  rather  stay  out  of  a  war  for  now.  Roger  wants  to  avoid  controversy.”  
“Dancing  around  things  never  feels  authentic.  The  audience  feels  that.”  
“Can  you  just  stick  to  the  script,  Monsieur?”  
“Worrying  can  lead  to  heart  failure,  Miss  Ferriday.”  
I  pulled  the  pin  from  the  lily  of  the  valley.  “Here—a  boutonnière  for  the  guest  of  
honor.”  
“Muguet?”  M.  Rodierre  said.  “Where  did  you  find  that  this  time  of  year?”  
“You  can  get  anything  in  New  York.  Our  florist  forces  it  from  pips.”  
I  rested  my  palm  against  his  lapel  and  dug  the  pin  deep  into  the  French  velvet.  Was  
that  lovely  fragrance  from  him  or  the  flowers?  Why  didn’t  American  men  smell  like  this,  of  
tuberose  and  wood  musk  and—  
“You  know  lily  of  the  valley  is  poisonous,  right?”  M.  Rodierre  said.  
“So  don’t  eat  it.  At  least  not  until  you’ve  finished  speaking.  Or  if  the  crowd  turns  on  
you.”  
He  laughed,  causing  me  to  step  back.  Such  a  genuine  laugh,  something  rarely  found  
in  polite  society,  especially  where  my  jokes  were  concerned.  
11  
 

I  escorted  M.  Rodierre  backstage  and  stood  awed  by  the  enormity  of  the  stage,  twice  
the  size  of  any  I’d  stood  upon  on  Broadway.  We  looked  out  over  the  ballroom  to  the  sea  of  
tables  lit  by  candlelight,  like  flowery  ships  in  the  darkness.  Though  dimmed,  the  Waterford  
Crystal  chandelier  and  its  six  satellites  shimmered.  
“This  stage  is  enormous,”  I  said.  “Can  you  carry  it?”  
M.  Rodierre  turned  to  me.  “I  do  this  for  a  living,  Miss  Ferriday.”  
Fearing  I’d  only  antagonize  M.  Rodierre  further,  I  left  him  and  the  script  backstage,  
trying  to  dismiss  my  brown-­‐suede-­‐shoe  fixation.  I  hurried  to  the  ballroom  to  see  if  Pia  had  
executed  my  seating  chart,  more  detailed  and  dangerous  than  a  Luftwaffe  flight  plan.  I  saw  
she’d  simply  tossed  several  cards  onto  the  six  Rockefeller  tables,  so  I  rearranged  them  and  
took  my  place  close  to  the  stage  between  the  kitchen  and  the  head  table.  Three  stories  of  
red-­‐draped  boxes  rose  up  around  the  vast  room,  each  with  its  own  dinner  table.  All  
seventeen  hundred  seats  would  be  filled,  a  lot  of  unhappy  people  if  all  didn’t  go  well.  
The  guests  assembled  and  took  their  seats,  an  ocean  of  white  ties,  old  mine  
diamonds,  and  enough  rue  du  Faubourg  Saint-­‐Honoré  gowns  to  clean  out  most  of  Paris’s  
best  shops.  The  girdles  alone  would  ensure  both  Bergdorf  and  Goodman  reached  their  
third-­‐quarter  sales  goals.  
A  row  of  journalists  collected  alongside  me,  pulling  their  pencils  out  from  behind  
their  ears.  The  headwaiter  stood  poised  at  my  elbow,  awaiting  the  cue  to  serve.  Elsa  
Maxwell  entered  the  room—gossipmonger,  professional  party  hostess,  and  self-­‐promoter  
non  plus  ultra.  Would  she  remove  her  gloves  to  write  terrible  things  about  that  night  in  her  
column  or  just  memorize  the  horror  of  it  all?  

12  
 

The  tables  were  almost  full  when  Mrs.  Cornelius  Vanderbilt,  known  to  Roger  as  “Her  
Grace,”  arrived,  her  four-­‐story  Cartier  diamond  necklace  ablaze  at  her  chest.  I  gave  the  
signal  to  serve  as  Mrs.  Vanderbilt’s  bottom  made  contact  with  her  seat  cushion,  her  white  
fox  stole,  complete  with  head  and  feet,  draped  over  her  chairback.  The  lights  dimmed,  and  
Roger  lumbered  to  the  spotlighted  podium  to  heartfelt  applause.  I’d  never  been  this  
nervous  when  I  was  the  one  on  stage.  
“Mesdames  et  Messieurs,  Foreign  Minister  Bonnet  sends  his  sincerest  apologies,  but  
he  cannot  be  here  tonight.”  The  crowd  buzzed,  not  sure  how  to  react  to  disappointment.  
Did  one  ask  for  one’s  money  refunded  by  mail?  Call  Washington?  
Roger  held  up  one  hand.  “But  we  have  convinced  another  Frenchman  to  speak  
tonight.  Though  not  appointed  to  a  government  role,  he  is  a  man  cast  in  one  of  the  best  
roles  on  Broadway.”  
The  guests  whispered  to  one  another.  There  is  nothing  like  a  surprise,  provided  it’s  
a  good  one.  
“Please  allow  me  to  welcome  M.  Paul  Rodierre.”  
M.  Rodierre  bypassed  the  podium  and  headed  for  center  stage.  What  was  he  doing?  
The  spotlight  cast  around  the  stage  for  a  few  moments,  trying  to  locate  him.  Roger  took  his  
seat  at  the  head  table,  next  to  Mrs.  Vanderbilt.  I  stood  nearby,  but  outside  of  strangling  
range.  
“It’s  my  great  pleasure  to  be  here  tonight,”  M.  Rodierre  said,  once  the  spotlight  found  
him.  “I  am  terribly  sorry  M.  Bonnet  could  not  make  it.”  
Even  sans  microphone,  M.  Rodierre’s  voice  filled  the  room.  He  practically  glowed  in  
the  spotlight.  
13  
 

“I  am  a  poor  replacement  for  such  a  distinguished  guest.  I  hope  it  wasn’t  trouble  
with  his  plane.  I’m  sure  President  Roosevelt  will  be  happy  to  send  him  a  new  one  if  it  was.”  
A  swell  of  nervous  laughter  rolled  around  the  room.  I  didn’t  have  to  look  at  the  
journalists  to  know  they  were  scribbling.  Roger,  skilled  in  the  art  of  the  tête-­‐à-­‐tête,  
managed  to  speak  with  Mrs.  Vanderbilt  and  send  daggers  my  way  at  the  same  time.  
“True,  I  cannot  talk  to  you  about  politics,”  M.  Rodierre  continued.  
“Thank  God!”  someone  shouted  from  a  back  table.  The  crowd  laughed  again,  louder  
this  time.  
“But  I  can  talk  to  you  about  the  America  I  know,  a  place  that  surprises  me  every  day.  
A  place  where  open-­‐minded  people  not  only  embrace  French  theater  and  books  and  cinema  
and  fashion  but  French  people  as  well,  despite  our  faults.”  
“Shit,”  said  the  reporter  next  to  me  to  his  broken  pencil.  I  handed  him  mine.  
“Every  day  I  see  people  help  others.  Americans  inspired  by  Mrs.  Roosevelt,  who  
reaches  her  hand  across  the  Atlantic  to  help  French  children.  Americans  like  Miss  Caroline  
Ferriday,  who  works  everyday  to  help  French  families  here  in  America  and  keeps  French  
orphans  clothed.”  
Roger  and  Mrs.  Vanderbilt  looked  my  way.  The  spotlight  found  me,  standing  at  the  
wall,  and  the  familiar  light  blinded  me.  Her  Grace  clapped,  and  the  crowd  followed.  I  waved  
until  the  light,  mercifully  quickly,  whipped  back  to  the  stage,  leaving  me  in  cool  darkness.  I  
didn’t  miss  the  Broadway  stage  really,  but  it  was  good  to  feel  the  warmth  of  the  spotlight  on  
my  skin  again.  
“This  is  an  America  not  afraid  to  sell  planes  to  the  people  who  stood  beside  them  in  
trenches  of  the  Great  War.  An  America  not  afraid  to  help  keep  Hitler  from  the  streets  of  
14  
 

Paris.  An  America  not  afraid  of  standing  shoulder  to  shoulder  again  with  us  if  that  terrible  
time  does  come  .  .  .”  
I  watched,  only  able  to  look  away  for  a  few  peeks  at  the  crowd.  They  were  engrossed  
and  certainly  not  focused  on  his  shoes.  Half  an  hour  passed  in  an  instant,  and  I  held  my  
breath  as  M.  Rodierre  took  his  bow.  The  applause  started  small  but  rose  in  waves  like  a  
tremendous  rainstorm  pelting  the  roof.  A  teary-­‐eyed  Elsa  Maxwell  used  a  hotel  napkin  to  
dry  her  eyes,  and  by  the  time  the  audience  rose  to  their  feet  and  belted  out  “La  
Marseillaise,”  I  was  glad  Bonnet  didn’t  have  to  follow  that  performance.  Even  the  staff  sang,  
hands  over  their  hearts.  
As  the  lights  came  up,  Roger  looked  relieved  and  greeted  the  crush  of  well-­‐wishers  
that  lingered  near  the  head  table.  When  the  evening  wound  down,  he  left  for  the  Rainbow  
Room  with  a  gaggle  of  our  best  donors  and  a  few  Rockettes,  the  only  women  in  New  York  
who  made  me  look  short.  
M.  Rodierre  touched  my  shoulder  as  we  left  the  dining  room.  “I  know  a  place  over  on  
the  Hudson  with  great  wine.”  
“I  need  to  get  home,”  I  said,  though  I  hadn’t  eaten  a  thing.  Warm  bread  and  buttery  
escargot  came  to  mind,  but  it  was  never  smart  to  be  seen  out  alone  with  a  married  man.  
“Not  tonight,  Monsieur,  but  thank  you.”  I  could  be  home  in  minutes,  to  a  cold  apartment  and  
the  leftover  Waldorf  salad.  
“You’ll  make  me  eat  alone  after  our  triumph?”  M.  Rodierre  said.  
Why  not  go?  My  set  ate  at  only  certain  restaurants,  which  you  could  count  on  one  
hand,  all  within  a  four-­‐block  radius  of  the  Waldorf,  nowhere  near  the  Hudson.  What  harm  
could  one  dinner  do?  
15  
 

We  took  a  cab  to  La  Grenier,  a  lovely  bistro  on  the  West  Side.  The  French  ocean  
liners  sailed  up  the  Hudson  River  and  docked  at  Fifty-­‐first  Street,  so  some  of  New  York’s  
best  little  places  popped  up  near  there,  like  chanterelles  after  a  good  rain.  La  Grenier  lived  
in  the  shadow  of  the  SS  Normandie,  in  the  attic  of  a  former  harbor  master’s  building.  When  
we  exited  the  cab,  the  great  ship  rose  high  above  us,  deck  bright  with  spotlights,  four  floors  
of  portholes  aglow.  A  welder  at  her  bow  sent  apricot  sparks  into  the  night  sky  as  deckhands  
lowered  a  spotlight  down  her  side  to  painters  on  a  scaffold.  She  made  me  feel  small  
standing  there,  below  that  great,  black  prow,  her  three  red  smoke  stacks,  each  bigger  than  
any  of  the  warehouse  buildings  that  extended  down  the  pier.  Salt  hung  in  the  end-­‐of-­‐
summer  air  as  Atlantic  seawater  met  Hudson  River  fresh.  
The  tables  at  La  Grenier  were  packed  with  a  nice  enough  looking  crowd,  mostly  
middle-­‐class  types,  including  a  reporter  from  the  gala  and  what  looked  like  ocean-­‐liner  
passengers  happy  to  be  on  terra  firma.  We  chose  a  tight,  shellacked  wooden  booth,  built  
like  something  from  the  inside  of  a  ship,  where  every  inch  counts.  Le  Grenier’s  maître  d’,  M.  
Bernard,  fawned  over  M.  Rodierre,  told  him  he’d  seen  The  Streets  of  Paris  three  times,  and  
overshared  the  details  of  his  own  acting  in  Hoboken  Community  Theater.  
M.  Bernard  turned  to  me.  “And  you,  Mademoiselle.  Haven’t  I  seen  you  on  the  stage  
with  Miss  Helen  Hayes?”  
“An  actress?”  M.  Rodierre  said  with  a  smile.  
At  close  range,  that  smile  was  unsafe.  I  had  to  keep  my  wits  about  me,  since  French  
men  were  my  Achilles’  heel.  In  fact,  if  Achilles  had  been  French,  I  probably  would  have  
carried  him  around  until  his  tendon  healed.  
M.  Bernard  continued.  “I  thought  the  reviews  were  unfair—”  
16  
 

“We’ll  order,”  I  said.  
“One  used  the  word  ‘stiffish,’  I  believe—”  
“We’ll  have  the  escargot,  Monsieur.  Light  on  the  cream,  please—”  
“And  what  was  it  The  Times  said  about  Twelfth  Night?  ‘Miss  Ferriday  sufficed  as  
Viola’?  Harsh,  I  thought—”  
“—and  the  Parmesan.  And  no  garlic.  Undercook  them,  please,  so  they  are  not  too  
tough.”  
“Would  you  like  them  to  crawl  to  the  table,  Mademoiselle?”  M.  Bernard  scratched  
down  our  order  and  headed  for  the  kitchen.  
M.  Rodierre  studied  the  champagne  list,  lingering  over  the  details.  “An  actress,  eh?  
I’d  never  have  guessed.”  There  was  something  appealing  about  his  unkempt  look,  like  a  
potager  in  need  of  weeding.  
“The  consulate  suits  me  better.  Mother’s  known  Roger  for  years,  and  when  he  
suggested  I  help  him,  I  couldn’t  resist.”  
M.  Bernard  placed  a  basket  of  bread  on  our  table,  lingering  a  moment  to  gaze  at  M.  
Rodierre,  as  if  memorizing  him.  
“Hope  I’m  not  running  off  a  boyfriend  tonight.”  He  reached  for  the  breadbasket  as  I  
did,  and  my  hand  brushed  his,  warm  and  soft.  I  darted  my  hand  back  to  my  lap.  
“I’m  too  busy  for  all  that.  You  know  New  York—parties  and  all.  Exhausting,  really.”  
“Never  see  you  at  Sardi’s.”  He  pulled  apart  the  loaf,  steam  rising  to  the  light.  
“Oh,  I  work  a  lot.”  
“I  have  a  feeling  you  don’t  work  for  the  money.”  

17  
 

“It’s  an  unsalaried  position,  if  that’s  what  you  mean,  but  that’s  not  a  question  asked  
in  polite  society,  Monsieur.”  
“Can  we  dispense  with  the  ‘Monsieur’?  Makes  me  feel  ancient.”  
“First  names?  We’ve  only  just  met.”  
“It’s  1939.”  
“Manhattan  society  is  like  a  solar  system  with  its  own  order.  A  single  woman  dining  
with  a  married  man  is  enough  to  throw  planets  out  of  alignment.”  
“No  one  will  see  us  here,”  Paul  said,  pointing  out  a  champagne  on  the  list  to  M.  
Bernard.  
“Tell  that  to  Miss  Evelyn  Shimmerhorn  over  there  in  the  back  booth.”  
“Are  you  ruined?”  he  said  with  a  certain  type  of  kindness  seldom  found  in  achingly  
beautiful  men.  Maybe  the  black  shirt  was  a  good  choice  for  him  after  all.  
“Evelyn  won’t  talk.  She’s  having  a  child,  poorly  timed,  dear  thing.”  
“Children.  They  complicate  everything,  don’t  they?  No  place  for  that  in  an  actor’s  
life.”  
Another  selfish  actor.  
“How  does  your  father  earn  your  place  in  this  solar  system?”  
Paul  was  asking  a  lot  of  questions  for  a  new  aquaintance.  
“Earned,  actually.  He  was  in  dry  goods.”  
“Where?”  
M.  Bernard  slid  a  silver  bucket  with  handles  like  gypsy’s  earrings  onto  the  table,  the  
emerald-­‐green  throat  of  the  champagne  bottle  lounging  against  one  side.  
“Partnered  with  James  Harper  Poor.”  
18  
 

“Of  Poor  Brothers?  Been  to  his  house  in  East  Hampton.  He’s  not  exactly  poor.  Do  you  
visit  France  often?”  
“Paris  every  year.  Mother  inherited  an  apartment  .  .  .  on  rue  Chauveau  Lagarde.”  
M.  Bernard  eased  the  cork  from  the  champagne  with  a  satisfying  sound,  more  thud  
than  pop.  He  tipped  the  golden  liquid  into  my  glass,  and  the  bubbles  rose  to  the  rim,  almost  
overflowed,  then  settled  at  the  perfect  level.  An  expert  pour.  
“My  wife,  Rena,  has  a  little  shop  near  there  called  Rena’s.  Have  you  seen  it?”  
I  sipped  my  champagne,  the  bubbles  teasing  my  lips.  
Paul  slid  her  picture  from  his  wallet.  Rena  was  younger  than  I  had  imagined  and  
wore  her  dark  hair  in  a  china  doll  haircut.  She  was  smiling,  eyes  open  wide,  as  if  sharing  
some  delicious  little  secret.  Rena  was  precious  and  perhaps  my  complete  opposite.  I  
imagined  Rena’s  to  be  the  type  of  chic  little  place  that  helped  women  put  themselves  
together  in  that  famous  French  way—nothing  too  matchy,  with  just  the  right  amount  of  
wrong.  
“No,  I  don’t  know  Rena’s,”  I  said.  I  handed  the  picture  back.  “She’s  lovely,  though.”  
I  finished  the  champagne  in  my  glass.  
Paul  shrugged.  “Too  young  for  me,  of  course,  but—”  He  looked  at  the  photo  a  few  
moments  as  if  seeing  it  for  the  first  time,  head  tilted  to  one  side,  before  slipping  it  back  into  
his  wallet.  “We  don’t  see  much  of  each  other.”  
I  fluttered  at  the  thought  and  then  settled,  weighted  by  the  realization  that  even  if  
Paul  were  available  my  forceful  nature  would  root  out  and  extinguish  any  spark  of  
romance.  
The  radio  in  the  kitchen  blared  scratchy  Edith  Piaf.  
19  
 

Paul  lifted  the  bottle  from  the  bucket  and  tipped  more  champagne  into  my  glass.  It  
effervesced,  riotous  bubbles  tumbling  over  the  glass’s  edge.  I  glanced  at  him.  We  both  knew  
what  that  meant,  of  course.  The  tradition.  Anyone  who’s  spent  any  time  at  all  in  France  
knows  it.  Had  he  overpoured  on  purpose?  
Without  hesitation,  Paul  tapped  his  finger  to  the  spilled  champagne  along  the  base  
of  my  glass,  reached  across  to  me,  and  dabbed  the  cool  liquid  behind  my  left  ear.  I  almost  
jumped  at  his  touch,  then  waited  as  he  brushed  my  hair  aside  and  touched  behind  my  right  
ear,  his  finger  lingering  there  a  moment.  He  then  anointed  himself  behind  each  ear,  smiling.  
Why  did  I  suddenly  feel  warm  all  over?  
“Does  Rena  ever  visit?”  I  asked.  I  tried  to  rub  a  tea  stain  off  my  hand  only  to  find  it  
was  an  age  spot.  Delightful.  
“Not  yet.  She  has  no  interest  in  theater.  Hasn’t  even  come  over  here  to  see  The  
Streets  of  Paris  yet,  but  I  don’t  know  if  I  can  stay.  Hitler  has  everyone  on  edge  back  home.”  
Somewhere  in  the  kitchen,  two  men  argued.  Where  was  our  escargot?  Had  they  sent  
to  Perpignan  for  the  snails?  
“At  least  France  has  the  Maginot  Line,”  I  said.  
“The  Maginot  Line?  Please.  A  concrete  wall  and  some  observation  posts?  That’s  only  
a  gauntlet  slap  to  Hitler.”  
“It’s  fifteen  miles  wide.”  
“Nothing  will  deter  Hitler  if  he  wants  something,”  Paul  said.  
There  was  a  full-­‐blown  ruckus  in  the  kitchen.  No  wonder  our  entrée  had  not  arrived.  
The  cook,  mercurial  artiste  no  doubt,  was  having  a  fit  about  something.  

20  
 

M.  Bernard  emerged  from  the  kitchen.  The  port-­‐holed  kitchen  door  swung  closed  
behind  him,  flapped  open  and  shut  a  few  times,  and  then  stood  still.  He  walked  to  the  center  
of  the  dining  room.  Had  he  been  crying?  
“Excusez-­‐moi,  Ladies  and  Gentlemen.”  
Someone  tapped  a  glass  with  a  spoon,  and  the  room  quieted.  
“I  have  just  heard  from  a  reliable  source  .  .  .”  M.  Bernard  took  a  breath,  his  chest  
expanding  like  leather  fireplace  bellows.  “We  have  it  on  good  authority  that  .  .  .”  
He  paused,  overcome  for  a  moment,  then  went  on.  
“Adolf  Hitler  has  invaded  Poland.”  
“My  God,”  Paul  said.  
We  stared  at  each  other  as  the  room  erupted  with  excited  exchanges,  a  racket  of  
speculation  and  dread.  The  reporter  from  the  gala  stood,  tossed  some  crumpled  dollars  on  
the  table,  grabbed  his  fedora,  and  bounded  out.  
In  the  hubbub  that  followed  his  announcement,  M.  Bernard’s  final  words  were  
almost  lost.  
“May  God  help  us  all.”  

 

21  
 

CHAPTER ONE

Bailey Chen was taking care of some serious business.
“Hello?” She plugged a finger into her non-cell-phone ear. “Jess? Are you still there? I was just
saying that I think Divinyl’s doing some really interesting things with their business model—”
“Yup!” A perky female voice emanated through her phone’s tinny speaker. “That’s great! So you
probably know we’re—”
“‘A revolutionary return to revolving music,’” Bailey recited. “The company that’s bringing the retro
sound of vinyl to the convenience of a mobile platform. I think that’s really, uh…” She cast around for
the right word. Cool? Awesome? What could you really say about an audio filter app that took sharp
and clear mp3s and re-rendered them into record-styled, hiss-and-pop-filled “retro” playback?
Anything, she reminded herself. Anything as long as it landed her an interview.
“…really innovative,” Bailey finished. “And I’d love to come in and talk with you.”
There was a crackle on the other end of the line, and Bailey wondered for a split-second if it was
an intentional, retro part of Divinyl’s corporate phone system or just a side effect of her shitty cell
reception.
“Totally!” Jess said. “God, can you believe we haven’t talked since, like, high school? We have so
much to catch up on.”
“Oh,” Bailey said. “Um, yeah!”
Bailey could believe they hadn’t talked since, like, high school, because they hadn’t talked that
much in high school. But maybe Jess was one of those people who had dramatically changed in
college. Besides, if Bailey landed the job, Jess would probably be her first office friend. They could do
business-lady things like go out for chopped salads together. Or even better, make an intern bring
them chopped salads, and eat together in their spacious, window-filled corner offices while they

planned total domination of their market sector. (And maybe online-shopped for statement necklaces,
since it was, after all, their lunch break).
Bailey smiled. If she’d ever had a mental picture of success, that was it: lunch delivery, ruthless
business sense, and power jewelry.
“Bailey?”
Bailey nearly dropped her phone. “Sorry, Jess, I’m here. So do you have any time coming up this
week, or—”
“Bailey!”
This time, her name was not coming from the phone. Zane Whelan’s shaggy-haired head
appeared over the end of the bar, square glasses gleaming. “There you are!”
Shit. “Um, gotta go,” Bailey chirped into her phone, “but
callmebackwhenyougeta ch—”
Zane frowned. “Are you…talking to someone?”
“Hydrangeas,” Bailey said quickly.
“Huh?”
“Hydrangeas, wisterias, oleander, rhododendron, and anthurium,” Bailey said, nodding to the trivia
emcee in her bright blue Chicago Cubs windbreaker, who was gamely grinning down at a clipboard
from behind her microphone. “Five of, uh, the most common poisonous plants.”
“Anthurium?” Zane blinked. “That sounds like something from a B-movie.”
Bailey pocketed her cell phone. “Well, it’s real.”
Beside them, the emcee paced the bar floor, shooting pleading glances at each team in turn.
“Come on, guys,” she said, with microphone-added reverb. “I only need five. You’ve still got twenty
seconds left to—yes! You.”
The captain of a team of yuppies had leapt to his feet. “Oleander, poinsettia, dandel—”
But as he’d said “dandelion,” a buzzer drowned him out.
“Duh,” Bailey said under her breath. “Dandelions are actually edible.”

“Really?” Zane said.
“They’re good in salads.”
“Sorry.” The emcee shook her head like a rueful gameshow host. “Dandelions may not taste great,
but they’re not poisonous. They’re actually—”
Bailey mouthed the end of the sentence along with her: “—edible and good in salads.”
“Wow.” Zane tapped out a few polite claps. “I’m impressed.”
“Oh, um, don’t be,” Bailey said, praying that he wouldn’t ask about her phone call. “Poinsettias
aren’t toxic to humans unless you eat, like, five hundred leaves. She should have called him on that
one.”
“Hey, ease up. Not everyone in this bar’s an Ivy League graduate.”
Bailey flushed. “I didn’t mean—”
But Zane was grinning. “Because that distinction is the exclusive territory of our smartest
barback.”
He patted her shoulder, and Bailey tried not to cringe.
“Right,” she said. “Um, thanks.”
“And as the smartest barback at the Nightshade Lounge,” Zane went on, “you really should know
better than to go…sit on the floor during a busy shift.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Bailey rushed out. “I just had to, uh, the music…”
“Music?” Zane shook his head. “Bailey, that jukebox has probably been here since the sixties. It
totally doesn’t work. You know that.”
“Right,” Bailey said. Sometimes it felt like nothing worked at the Nightshade Lounge except Bailey.
And Zane, of course.
Zane gave the jukebox a fond pat on its cracked front window and pushed up his glasses.
“Anyway. Don’t slack on me, okay?”
“I’m not,” Bailey protested. If there was one thing she wasn’t, it was a slacker. “I’m just—”
“Look, Bailey, I told my uncle you could do this job with no experience,” Zane went on. “And you

can do it. But if you don’t do it…” He cleared his throat. “I don’t want to have to fire you your first
week,” he said in a low voice.
Bailey could only nod. She wished she could explain—sorry, Zane, that I’m not only looking for the
first opportunity to ditch the job you pulled major strings to get me, but doing it while on the clock—but
instead, she gave him the truncated version: “Sorry. Yup.”
“Good.” Zane smiled. He’d shown up to work that night wearing what he always wore: a slim old
three-piece suit, complete with a loosely knotted tie and rumpled dress shirt, which made him look
like a Swinging London Modster about to zip off on a candy-colored scooter. “And in return, I’ll
continue to pay you and act as your beneficent overlord.”
“More glasses!” Trina, the redheaded bartender who was Zane’s counterweight at the bar that
night, yelled down at them from the other end of the bar. “Sometime this century, please?” she added.
“Not those glasses, Zane. You already made that joke, like, five
minutes ago.”
Zane crammed his spectacles back onto his face. “I still think it’s funny.”
“On it,” Bailey said, glad for the abrupt end to her conversation. She scooted along in the narrow
space behind them, calling out, “On your back! On your back!” as she passed. She deposited a
freshly cleaned stack of old fashioned glasses by Trina’s side, then glanced at her garnish tray.
“Thanks,” Trina said. “I’m low on—”
“—Cucumbers,” Bailey said, nodding. “On it. On your back, on your back…”
“Bailey—” Zane said as she passed him.
“More towels?” Zane could never have enough towels.
“Damn, you’re good.” He plunged a spoon into his shaker and stirred its contents into a froth.
On one hand, he was right: Bailey was well suited to the job of bar-back. Her small size meant she
could traverse the cramped bar with ease. Her sharp eye for details and logistics often allowed her to
solve problems before they became problems—say, for instance, a shortage of cucumber slices. Her
Ivy League education…well, she’d gotten a a really nice UPenn bottle opener that came in handy.

And while she liked people well enough, she wasn’t always the best at dealing with them. As a barback, she didn’t have to. She just had to keep shuttling supplies and ensuring things on the line
moved smoothly.
On the other hand, though, bar-backing was a terrible job.
The Ravenswood neighborhood had plenty of bars, but the Nightshade was an institution (which,
in Chicago, was more or less equivalent to a place that stubbornly stuck around for years and refused
to close). The dark drapes, low lights, and worn-down booth cushions the color of emeralds evoked a
kind of comfortably faded Second-City swank—emphasis on faded, because Bailey was pretty sure
they hadn’t been replaced since at least the Carter administration. But while the place obviously
wasn’t trendy enough to serve fourteen-dollar cocktails, it wasn’t crappy enough to sell just cheapie
cans of light lager, either.
Even though it seemed to Bailey like Garrett Whelan had no business savvy whatsoever, the
Nightshade did a brisk business selling mixed drinks to mixed company. So in theory, her duties as
bar-back should have been:

1) Keep the bartenders supplied with a steady stream of
clean glasses, while removing the used ones.
2) Make sure each garnish tray is well-stocked at all times.
3) Regularly check the garbage, and make sure to take it
out before it overflows.

(Bailey did her best work when she could take a moment to prioritize everything, preferably in list
form.)
At the height of a rush, however, her list was far more likely to look like this:

DO EVERYTHING

RIGHT NOW
or else

All night, every night, she never stopped moving. No matter how on top of things she was, there
was always another fire for her to put out.
And then there were the customers. For the most part, they started the evening pleasant enough.
But a few rounds of drinks had the same effect as a trip to Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island: they could
turn anyone into an ass.
“So that’ll be a martini for me…” one of the hardcore trivia enthusiasts slurred at her, a while later.
She leaned over the bar and gazed down at Bailey with eyes as glassy as marbles.
Bailey greeted her with her most patient smile. “I’m sorry, but I’m just a bar-back,” she said. “I
can’t make—”
“…two glasses of whiskey with ice…” the girl continued. “And for Trev…hey, Trev! What do you
want?”
A few paces away, Trev muttered something.
“Oh yeah,” said the girl. “A Long Island Iced tea.” With her lazy, boozy diction, the order came out
lawn-islan-icy.
Bailey doubled down on her outward customer-friendliness, even as her internal patience
evaporated. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” she said again. “But I—”
Zane appeared like magic. “Ladies,” he said smoothly, positioning himself between his bar-back
and the members of the “Wreck Your Privilege” trivia team. “I know a thing or two about making a
decent Long Island. Why don’t you leave it to me?”
His performance felt increasingly unreal as Bailey watched. The Zane she’d always known had
been clumsy and awkward, but apparently a lot changed when you didn’t see someone for five years.
This version of Zane effortlessly charmed his customers, entertaining them while he mixed their
drinks with the showy vigor of a stage magician.

Speaking of people who’ve changed since high school, she thought, and then squashed the
notion as quickly as it appeared. Yes, high-school Zane had been the kind of guy who couldn’t admit
to his feelings for his best friend Bailey until a couple beers at Luke Perez’s graduation party had
loosened his tongue…and Bailey’s pants. Yes, talking to Zane two weeks ago had been a catch-up
session even more awkward than her theoretical upcoming “please give me a job, please” chat with
Jess. But no, overall, things were good now: Zane and Bailey were friends again, and it wasn’t too
awkward (which was good). And he’d even given her a job to help get her parents off her back (which
was even better). And if the only side effect was her own sudden, terminal uncoolness? Well, so be it.
She probably deserved it.
“You know,” Bailey said as he sent those customers on their way, “it’d probably help if you taught
me how to make drinks. Just when you or Trina are too busy, or something like that.” The bar lifestyle
had wreaked havoc on her sleep schedule and her social life, and the pay sucked, but calling herself
a bartender was at least kind of cool, and would sound less embarrassing when she got around to
having friends again.
Zane shook his head. “No dice,” he said. “No offense, but you’re not ready yet.”
“Not ready?” Bailey was incredulous. “What happened to the smartest barback?”
“You’re also our only barback,” Zane said. “And right now, that’s where I need you. Okay?”
Bailey tried not to scowl. “Okay.”

——————————

The Screwdriver.
A drink to lend gravitas to the beginner bartender.

————————————————

1. Fill a highball glass with ice.
2. Pour glass one-third full of vodka.
3. Fill remaining two thirds of glass
with orange juice.
4. Stir once and serve.

The screwdriver is one of bartending’s most basic cocktails, but also one of its most useful. Though
one cannot oversell the importance of a quick mind and a good heart in the life of a bartender, there
are occasions when the best tonic is pure brawn. In this department, the screwdriver remains
unmatched.
Bartenders favor this cocktail for myriad reasons. Its ingredients are few, cheap, and easily
obtainable in all but the most remote places. It can be mixed quickly in the event that one has been
caught flat-footed while also conveniently within arm’s reach of a fully stocked bar. And while the
abilities granted by the proper preparation of other libations may require years of steady practice to
master, drinkers of the screwdriver have found that hitting things very hard in the face until they die is
rather straightforward.

V ODKA .
Records of vodka in the pre-Blackout era are unfortunately sparse; however, its use is known to date
back to at least the 1400s, when its existence is first attested in Polish court documents. Vodka
(dimunitive of voda, water) was then—anecdotally—the only thing known to convince Slavic men to
even leave their homes in the dead of winter, let alone hunt prowling tremens. Traditionally distilled
from sugar-rich cereal grains or potatoes, vodka also found a secondary medicinal use as a
restorative aqua vitae, its strengthening properties being mistaken for healing ones.
Post-Blackout, vodka found its way to American shores in the saddlebags of Polish cavalier

Casimir Pulaski, who encouraged its bibulation amongst the cavalrymen he trained to fight in the
American Revolution. Though he expressly forbade its use in open battle, his horsemen would
frequently be dispatched with rations of vodka to patrol the fringes of his encampments and root out
lurking tremens.

———
O RANGE JUICE .
The logistical difficulty of producing mass quantities of orange juice sidelined it for many years as a
bartending curiosity and little else. It wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century and the advent of
widespread refrigerated trucking systems that bartenders were able to regularly incorporate it into
their repertoires. For best results, a fresh-squeezed juice is recommended; if none is available,
canned orange juice, with its higher vitamin C content, is in fact preferable to standard grocery
bottles or cartons. It’s unknown who first created this particular combination, but the name
“screwdriver” was coined by Frederick Leeds, a Florida bartender who claimed he used the drink to
help him remove a screw from his boat hitch that had rusted into place.

T he Tr ansl at ion of Love
A NOV E L

Lynne Kut sukake

D oubleday
New York London Toronto Sydney Auckland

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 3

10/22/15 3:29 PM

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are
the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Lynne Kutsukake
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday,
a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
www.doubleday.com
doubleday and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are
registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
Book design by Maria Carella
Jacket design by Emily Mahon
Jacket photograph: Gallery Stock
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Kutsukake, Lynne.
The translation of love : a novel / Lynne Kutsukake—First United States edition.
pages ; cm
ISBN 978‑0‑385‑54067‑4 (hardcover)—ISBN 978‑0‑385‑54068‑1 (ebook) 1. Girls—­
Japan—­Fiction. 2. Friendship—­Fiction. 3. Sisters—­Fiction. I. Title.
PR9199.4.K865T73 2016
813'.6—dc23
2015024191
manufactured in the united states of america
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
First Edition

Kuts_9780385540674_5p_all_r1.indd 4

12/21/15 12:21 PM

Tokyo, 1947
The car is in a parade all by itself. Traffic must stop whenever the
boy’s father travels, so the road is completely empty. Crowds line the
street to watch them. Normally the boy is not allowed to ride in the big
Cadillac, the special car reserved for work, but today is special. Today the
boy is in the parade, too.
It is a short ride to GHQ, General Headquarters, the office from
which his father rules Japan.
“Look at all the people!” The boy raises his finger to the car window.
He sees a tiny old woman in a gray kimono, a sunburned man in a white
shirt and black pants, a mother with a baby strapped to her back.
“Arthur, don’t point.”
The voice is firm but not harsh. Even when it reprimands him, it is
the voice he loves. “Yes, Father,” he murmurs and steals a glance at the
figure seated beside him in the backseat. His father has not turned his
head once since they got into the car, not toward the boy or toward the
crowds.
“Your mother explained about the photographers, didn’t she?”
“Yes, sir.” He will have his picture taken with his father, and it will
appear in all the newspapers and magazines in America.
“You’re not nervous are you, Sergeant?”
“No, Father.”
“That’s right. Nothing to be nervous about. Just a few photos. You
should be yourself. Act natural.”
“Yes, Father.”

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 1

10/22/15 3:29 PM

2

“When we’re finished, your mother will meet you and take you
to the PX. The photographers may want to take more pictures of you.
Maybe your mother will get you one of those special hamburgers. Would
you like that?”
His father’s mouth takes the shape of a smile, but the boy cannot see
his eyes. The dark lenses of the sunglasses reveal nothing.
Up ahead, the boy spots two girls lining the route. He can’t help
noticing other children, especially if they look at all close to his own age.
Suddenly one of the girls breaks from the crowd and dashes onto the
road. She is heading straight for them, as if she means to run directly in
front of the car’s path. There is shouting, loud cries in an unintelligible
language.
The girl is close to the car now, close enough for the boy to see her
eyes. She is staring right at him, locking her wild gaze on him, and he
finds he cannot turn away. Then as abruptly as it started, it is all over. A
Japanese policeman grabs her and her body snaps backward as if she has
reached the end of an elastic band. The boy cranes his neck to see what
is happening. He wants to turn around and look out the back window,
but he doesn’t dare. He wants to tell his father what he has seen, to share
this extraordinary thing that has happened on this extraordinary day, but
General MacArthur is chewing on the end of his pipe, deep in important
and private thought.

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 2

10/22/15 3:29 PM

1

E

ver since her sister had gone away, Fumi looked forward to
the democracy lunches with a special, ravenous hunger. The
American soldiers came to her school once a week with deliveries,
and though she never knew what they would bring, it didn’t matter.
She wanted it all, whatever it was. Sometimes it was powdered milk
and soft white bread as fluffy as cake. Sometimes it was a delicious
oily meat called Spam. Occasionally it was peanut butter, a sticky
brown paste whose unusual flavor—­somehow sweet and salty at the
same time—­was surprisingly addictive. The lunch supplements supplied by the Occupation forces reminded her of the kind of presents
her older sister, Sumiko, used to bring in the days when she still
came home. Fumi’s hunger was insatiable, and although she couldn’t
have put it in so many words, some part of her sensed that her craving was inseparable from her longing for her sister’s return.
All the pupils knew that the lunches were to help them think
clearer, think freer. To become creative and independent. On very
rare occasions, hard-­boiled eggs were distributed. Eggs were a special treat, high in protein, and while not strictly speaking an American food, they were said to make you democratic faster. They were
Fumi’s favorite. Throughout the war and ever since the surrender,
fresh eggs had been in extremely short supply in Tokyo, almost
impossible to obtain except at great expense in the black market.
She knew today was an egg day because Akiko’s younger brother

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 3

10/22/15 3:29 PM

4

Masatomi had spotted the army jeep at the end of recess and a GI had
given him one. From that moment on it was all Fumi could think of.
Under her desk, out of Kondo Sensei’s sight, she cupped her hand in
her lap and pretended she could already feel the weight of the egg in
her palm. It was nature’s most perfect food, she’d decided, for what
else came in its own self-­contained package, a smooth thin shell that
peeled off in sheets to uncover the slippery skin inside.
The eggs were especially coveted because the Americans never
seemed to bring enough to go around. The other items—­the milk,
the bread, the peanut butter—­could easily be stretched so that everyone got something, but an egg was an egg. The elementary grades
were served first and inevitably there was a shortfall by the time the
older pupils like Fumi, who was twelve and in the first year of middle school, had their turn. On the last egg day, despite jumping up
as soon as class was dismissed, she had been pushed out of the way
by two larger girls who were determined to beat her to the line. She
vowed she wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Strategy was key.
This time she planned to use her smaller size to her advantage, to
slip between everyone’s legs, crawl on the floor until she was through
the door, and then run down the hall to where the makeshift distribution table was set up.
So Fumi simply couldn’t understand why, today of all days, she
had gotten stuck with looking after the repat girl.

S
The new girl had arrived shortly before noon. There was a sharp
rap at the door and the principal, who was rarely seen outside the
teachers’ office, stepped into the classroom. Everyone automatically
stood up, bowed in his direction, and remained standing while he
and Kondo Sensei conferred in low whispers. The principal was
a short, stout man, not much taller than most of the girls in their
all-­girls class, and Fumi couldn’t help noticing that he stood on tiptoe when he was speaking into Kondo Sensei’s ear. After this brief
consultation, the principal returned to the doorway and reentered,
this time followed by a girl who hunched her shoulders like an old

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 4

10/22/15 3:29 PM

5

woman and hung her head so low no one could see her face. She
looked miserable.
“This is your new student,” the principal said aloud. He was
speaking to Kondo Sensei but now everyone could hear.
“I see.”
“Shimamura. Aya Shimamura.” He jerked his chin in the girl’s
direction. “She’ll start today.”
“Yes, sir. But as the term has already started—”
“Please. Do your best.” The principal turned and walked away.
It wasn’t clear to whom this last remark was addressed.
There was a moment of confusion, with some of the girls continuing to bow toward the empty doorway through which the principal had retreated. Kondo Sensei rapped his pointer on the side of
his desk.
“Class, rise!” he said, even though everyone was still standing.
“Let’s welcome our new classmate, Miss Aya Shimamura.”
They bowed formally, but not quite as low as had been required
for the principal. After all, this was only another student.
“As of today, Miss Shimamura will be joining our class. We are
very lucky.” He paused as if uncertain how to continue. “She is from
America.”
This remark caused an almost electric charge to flow through
the classroom.
“From America,” he repeated, his voice stronger. “As you are all
aware, the mastery of English is one of the goals of our new middle-­
school curriculum, and I am sure that Miss Shimamura will be able
to make many helpful contributions toward this end.”
He paused and looked from left to right until his eyes fell on the
desk Fumi shared with Akiko in the center of the front row. Briskly
he tapped his pointer on the side where Akiko sat.
“Right here. Miss Shimamura, you can sit at this desk. Fumi,
it will be your responsibility to look after your new seatmate. Take
care of her. Make sure she knows what to do.”
Fumi immediately sat up straight. What about Akiko, she
wanted to protest. But Akiko had already gathered her books and
Kondo Sensei was directing her to a desk at the back.

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 5

10/22/15 3:29 PM

6

No sooner had everyone gotten settled than a bell began ringing
and Kondo Sensei looked at his watch. He sighed and set his pointer
lengthwise across his desk.
“Very good. Class dismissed for lunch.”
Fumi was halfway to the door when she heard her name.
“Miss Tanaka!”
The other girls rushed past her and stampeded out of the room.
“Sensei?”
“What are you doing? Come here. Did I not give you a special
responsibility?” He tipped his head in Aya’s direction.
“But, Sensei, it’s an egg day.”
“Well, take her with you and help her get something.” He picked
up a book from his desk and left.
The new girl was frozen in the same hunched posture she had
assumed as soon as she sat down, her forehead within inches of resting on the desk. They were alone in the classroom.
“You heard the teacher. Come on!”
The girl did not move or give any indication that she heard or
understood.
“Get up, let’s go! We have to hurry or we’ll miss out.” Fumi
leaned over and put her mouth next to Aya’s ear. “What’s wrong
with you? Are you deaf? Get up!”
Still the girl didn’t budge. Instead, she seemed to be trying to
retract her head into her neck like a turtle. Something about that
ridiculous action infuriated Fumi and she grabbed the sleeve of Aya’s
blouse. “Get up!” Fumi tugged once, twice, and on the third tug the
thin material tore right off at the shoulder. For the first time the girl
came to life. She burst into tears and ran out of the room.

S
“How’s your new friend?” Akiko’s laugh sounded a bit malicious.
“Yeah, the repat.” Tomoko snickered.
“How should I know?” Fumi muttered.
“My mother says the imin shouldn’t have come back. The immi-

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 6

10/22/15 3:29 PM

7

grants eat all our food. There’s not enough to go around.” Tomoko
spoke with authority.
“Stupid imin,” Fumi said. “She can’t even talk.”
“Do you think she knows Japanese?”
“She can’t even move, never mind talk.”
“Stupid. Baka.”
“Imin no baka.”
Fumi was beginning to feel a bit better. She’d debated running
after Aya, but hunger led her to the distribution table, just in case
something was left. As she expected, everything was gone. By the
time she joined her classmates, they had finished eating and were
gathered under the shade of the big oak tree in the far corner of the
schoolyard. Her own lunch, minus the hard-­boiled egg she had so
looked forward to, had been a millet “rice ball,” which she’d had to
eat very fast because she was late. She could still feel it stuck like a
hard stone in the middle of her chest just below her breastbone. It
hurt a bit when she laughed. Akiko and Tomoko were laughing, too,
and didn’t seem to hold it against her that she had to sit next to the
imin. The three girls joined hands to form a circle and swung their
arms back and forth, higher and higher, acting as childishly as the
elementary pupils with whom they shared the yard.
Just as Fumi was starting to get a bit light-­headed, she felt Akiko
and Tomoko let go of her hands and in the spot where they had
been standing Kondo Sensei appeared. He stepped directly in front
of Fumi and slapped her hard on the cheek with his open palm.
Fumi felt the entire schoolyard go quiet and still. Her cheek burned.
Although she’d been disciplined many times at school before, this
was the first time by Kondo Sensei, the new teacher.
“What did you do to Aya Shimamura!” he shouted. His face was
mottled purple right up to his receding hairline, and his thick glasses
had slid to the end of his nose.
“She wouldn’t move.” Fumi began to cry.
“Is that any reason to tear her clothes! How am I going to explain
this to the principal? I had to send her home. On her first day!”
There was an audible gasp from Akiko, Tomoko, and the other
pupils who were nearby.

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 7

10/22/15 3:29 PM

8

“I didn’t mean to.” She could hardly get the words out between
sobs. “She wouldn’t get up. I missed my egg.”
“Nobody cares about that.” Kondo Sensei turned to the other
students. “What are you staring at? Go back to the classroom.
Immediately! Go!”
The girls began running away before he had even finished talking.
“As for you, Fumi Tanaka, you stay here. Stand facing this tree
and don’t move until I come back to get you. Do you understand?”
At that, he turned and marched back to the main entranceway,
little puffs of dust rising behind his heels.
Fumi kept her head hung low for the rest of the afternoon just
in case Kondo Sensei was looking out the window to check up on
her. The sun was warm, flies buzzed around her head, and the sand
in the schoolyard blew up into her eyes. Her cheek stung for a long
time, a prickly tingle like millions of tiny pins. To distract herself,
she tried pretending that each tingle was a grain of white rice, that
she was being showered mercilessly with buckets of rice. But it didn’t
really help. So instead she thought about how the shiny oval bald
spot on the back of Kondo Sensei’s head looked just like an egg. This
made her feel much better.
It was all the fault of the stupid new girl. Why had Fumi gotten
stuck with her? Why hadn’t Aya been paired with Sanae? Skinny,
ugly Sanae who might be the smartest in the class but who had
bowed legs and unsightly blotches on her face. Or Tomoko who was
the prettiest, no one could argue with that, but who had a stuck‑up
nature. For that matter, why not Akiko? At least her father had a
proper job. In her mind, Fumi went through the list of all the things
she was not. Not the prettiest, not the most popular, not the best at
sports, certainly not the one with money. She knew that to most people she was just an average ordinary girl. But her sister had always
told her she was special, and whether it was true or not, Fumi missed
hearing it. She missed Sumiko and wished she knew how to find her
and make her come home.

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 8

10/22/15 3:29 PM

2

A

ya was too ashamed to tell her father about the horrible thing
that had happened at school. She hid her torn blouse under
a pile of dirty clothes and then crawled into the cramped dark closet
where they had to store their bedding during the daytime. Pushing
her face onto the futon, she cried openmouthed into its worn musty
folds. Although she hated the miserable lodgings that her father had
found for them, for the first time she was glad to be here, glad only
because she could be alone. Everything in Japan was worse than she
could possibly have imagined.
Her father had accompanied her to school that morning as if she
were starting kindergarten. The school had a long name—­Minami
Nishiki Elementary and Middle School—­so she had expected a
much grander structure than the run-­down building that stood in
the middle of a dirt yard. The roof looked like it was sagging at
one end and many of the windows were broken. The concrete walls
were full of cracks. Aya’s father bowed several times to the principal before producing an envelope from inside his jacket, which he
offered with yet another deep bow. Then he told her to remember
her manners and left.
Aya was given slippers that were torn at the toe and much too
wide, forcing her to half shuffle, half slide in order to keep up with
the principal as he led her from the main entrance and down the
long corridor. She kept her head low and concentrated on the slap-­
flap slap-­flap of his slippers. His feet hung over the backs, revealing

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 9

10/22/15 3:29 PM

10

a ragged hole in the heel of his left sock that seemed to get bigger
with each step he took. Even though the wooden floors were not
very clean, it seemed that no one was allowed to wear shoes inside.
Later she would notice that none of the other students wore slippers.
They were all barefoot.
The principal stopped at the last classroom.
“Class, rise!”
Aya heard the teacher announce her name and say she was joining the class. He said she was from America. America, America,
he kept repeating, and she didn’t know how to correct him. Not
America—­Canada. She hung her head even lower until her chin
touched her collarbone. Her name was repeated over and over. If she
weren’t feeling so nervous, she could have understood more of what
he was saying, but as it was, the only thing she caught for sure was
her own name and “America” and the word “English.” Ingurishu
was what it sounded like.
“You must bow properly. Zettai wasureruna! Don’t forget!” She
recalled her father’s instructions delivered in his gruff Japanese.
Keep your arms pressed tightly against your sides and bend your
upper body at a ninety-­degree angle. Hold for as long as you can. It
was important to know how to bow, how to behave. Every phrase
had a correct counter-­phrase, every gesture a precise and appropriate
response.
“You have to learn how to behave like a real Japanese or you’ll
never survive,” he’d said. “We’re here now. We’re here forever.”
She realized with horror that she had missed her chance to bow
earlier when she was standing in front of the class. Now the opportunity was gone and she was being urged to hurry and sit down. The
narrow bench wobbled when she slid onto it. Aya shot a sidelong
glance at the girl beside her, who had quickly turned her head away
and moved to the far side of the bench. All Aya could see of her was
her thick black hair cut straight across just below her chin. The surface of the desk felt rough, the wood unfinished. Aya put her hands
in her lap, reluctant to take up any space on top of the shared desk,
and squeezed her fists tighter and tighter until the knuckles turned

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 10

10/22/15 3:29 PM

11

white and shiny. Then, with her head bent low, she stared at the two
fists in her lap. They didn’t look like her own hands.
Nothing was recognizable anymore, not even her hands.

S
Aya was in Japan because her father had signed the papers to
repatriate. Go east of the Rockies and disperse, or go to Japan—­that
was the choice Canada had given them. No Japanese Canadians
would ever be allowed to return to the west coast. In the spring of
1945, even before the war was over, officials arrived in the internment camps with forms to sign and gave everyone three weeks to
choose between going “back” to Japan or scattering to unknown
parts across Canada.
Aya heard the panicked discussions among her father and other
adults. Strange terms like “deportation” and “forced exile” confused
her, but other things they said were perfectly clear: “Everything we
have is gone,” “They want to get rid of us,” “How can I start over
again at my age?” Clearest of all, though, was this: “They hate us.
No matter where we go in this country, they will always hate us.” It
was her father’s voice.
He signed, and with his signature gave the government what it
wanted—­the ability to deport him. Once the war ended, he was not
allowed to revoke what had been done. Aya knew she would have to
go with her father. It was just the two of them now that her mother
was dead.
They did not leave until the fall of 1946, boarding their train in
Slocan City to make the same journey in reverse as when they had
been interned. From the interior of British Columbia, they traveled
over jagged mountain passes, across endless tracts of forest, along the
length of the mighty Fraser River with its thunderous roar pounding in their ears. At the port in Vancouver they waited under guard
in the immigration shed for the American military transport ship
that would take them to Occupied Japan.
They were told they could take as much luggage as they liked,

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 11

10/22/15 3:29 PM

12

but they had next to nothing. Aya’s mother’s ashes were in her father’s
suitcase, inside a small square box that had been sealed tight and
wrapped in a white cloth. Sometimes she wanted to make sure her
mother was still there, but she didn’t dare open his suitcase to look.
Inside her own suitcase she had all her clothes, including the winter
coat that had once been too big but that now barely fit her. And in
a corner of the suitcase she’d also tucked the handkerchief in which
she’d wrapped six little stones from Slocan Lake. They were ugly
and gray, not like the sparkly stones she and her friend Midori had
collected when they were pretending to be prospectors searching for
precious gems. The stones weren’t heavy at all. For Aya, they could
never be heavy enough.

S
As soon as their ship came within sight of Japan, a cry had gone
out that spread from family to family. “We’re approaching the coast.
We should be able to see Nippon any minute now!”
It was drizzling, but everyone, including Aya and her father,
climbed up to the deck and crowded around the railing. They
peered into the thick mist. No land was visible yet, although they
could see a few small fishing boats close by dipping in and out of the
ocean waves.
“Mieru? Can you see?” Her father pointed into the murky distance.
She couldn’t see anything, not even the horizon. The sea, the sky,
and the rain were all of a piece, a flat wash of gray.
“We’re here at last. Our journey is over. Our long, hard journey.”
His voice cracked with emotion. She sensed that he meant something more than their two-­week sea voyage.
“If it weren’t for this damn rain, we could see Mount Fuji. That’s
a beautiful sight, Mount Fuji is. There are lots of beautiful sights in
Japan, Aya. You’ll see them soon enough. You’ll be glad I brought
you here.”
She looked at his profile. The stubble of his beard was flecked

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 12

10/22/15 3:29 PM

13

with more gray than ever before, making the shadow of his sunken
cheek more pronounced. His jawbone moved just below his ear, in
the spot where he was continually grinding his teeth. All the tension
and resentment always found its way to that spot.
“If only your . . .” He was staring out at the sea. Rain glistened
on his hair and forehead.
Aya knew better than to respond. It had become taboo to talk
about her mother, for it made them both too uncomfortable. Her
death had pushed Aya and her father farther apart, not closer, as
if her mother’s absence was a solid mass that sat between them.
Absence was not emptiness or nothingness, she had discovered. It
was the opposite. Insistent and ever present.
When the rain stopped and the mist thinned, the shoreline came
into sight and they could see the sunburned faces of fishermen on
boats that bobbed in the harbor. Soon they could even make out tiny
figures on land. They were slightly southwest of Tokyo, bound for
disembarkation at Uraga.
“Look!” Her father suddenly cupped his hand against the back
of her head as if he needed to make sure she was facing the right
direction. She could feel his rough calluses. “This is Japan. These
are Nihonjin! Japanese people. Everyone looks like us. We’re home.”
They were close to landing. Aya stared at the group of unkempt
men in ragged clothing who were running barefoot along the dock
where their ship was coming in. These were the Nihonjin who had
come to greet them. They were shouting something in Japanese.
What are they saying, she was about to ask when she made out
the words on her own. Not hello or welcome back, but “Amerikajin!
Cigaretto!”

S
Initially they moved in with her father’s relatives, an older couple
who lived on the outskirts of Tokyo. But it soon became clear that
the house was too small, resources too limited, the circumstances
too strained. “There’s nothing here,” the husband said repeatedly,

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 13

10/22/15 3:29 PM

14

in a weary monotone. “This is what happens when you lose.” He
was a remote man but not unkind. His wife, whom Aya was told to
address as Aunt Ritsuko, terrified her.
“Why didn’t you teach her to speak Japanese better? She’s thirteen, but she sounds like a six-­year-­old!”
Aunt Ritsuko’s shrill voice echoed throughout the tiny wooden
house, and Aya feared her sharp staccato words as if they were capable of drawing real blood. She quickly learned it was better to be
quiet, to listen but not speak, and this habit became her way of coping. If she spoke at all, she whispered, and gradually she felt her
throat drying up, her voice pulled thinner and thinner like a strand
of toffee. She would have liked to stop talking entirely, but it was still
necessary to reply if someone spoke to her. Neighbors and shopkeepers peppered her with questions: “Where are you from?” “How long
are you staying?” “Where’s your mother?”
“Don’t tell anyone anything,” her father had said right after they
arrived. “People here are nosy. This is a country of busybodies.”
Inside the house, he and Aunt Ritsuko clashed constantly. Whenever he complained about how bad things were in Japan, she would
snap, “Well, what did you expect? Why did you come back?” Outside the house, Aya’s father had many different voices, depending on
whom he was talking to, sometimes formal, sometimes obsequious,
sometimes carrying on about topics he knew nothing about. But Aya
noticed that the times when he was the most polite to a person to
their face was usually when he would turn around and curse them
behind their back.
“Not good enough, never good enough,” he muttered under his
breath whenever yet another odd job abruptly ended.
Everyone here was busy, always rushing. Aunt Ritsuko did everything fast. Despite the way her feet turned inward, pigeon-­like, so it
looked as if she might bump into herself with every step, she could
actually walk faster than anyone Aya had ever known. Dawdlers, it
seemed, were viewed with suspicion. Outsiders even more so.
“Don’t expect me to translate for you,” Aunt Ritsuko said, pushing
the loose strands of her wiry gray hair back into her tight bun. “I don’t
have time. Don’t expect me to guess what’s on your mind, either.”

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 14

10/22/15 3:29 PM

15

Sometimes Aya understood, often she didn’t. It seemed to depend
less on what people said than on how. If they spoke to her slowly and
gently, the way her mother always had, then the words were like
drops of warm rain that dissolved magically into her brain, and she
understood every single word. Aya’s mother had come to Canada as
a young picture bride to marry Aya’s father. She had never learned
much English and spoke to Aya only in Japanese. Aya could still
hear her mother’s soft cadence. “Aya-­chan, ii ko desu, ne. Aya-­chan,
you’re a good child. You help me with everything. Aya-­chan, what
would I do without you.”
But none of that mattered now. Hardly anyone here spoke like
her mother. Everyone was in too much of a hurry. Even after she and
her father moved to their own place, Aya found that most people she
met sounded just like her aunt, so cross and impatient that it was
impossible to understand them. Their words swirled around and
around, circling her head like angry black crows.

S
After the incident with Fumi, Aya was afraid to return to school,
but she was more afraid of not going. The other option—­explaining
to her father what had happened and exposing her shame—­struck
her as much worse. Her shame would become his shame. She decided
she had no choice. She would go back to school, hang her head, and
pray. Pray that Fumi would ignore her, pray that the teacher would
disregard her, pray that no one would ask her anything, pray that the
time would pass and that each day would eventually come to a close.
Anything could be endured, she had discovered, if she could only
package the time into discrete little packets. She imagined taking the
minutes, each one like a pellet, and wrapping them up—­one minute, five minutes, fifteen, thirty. Once she had managed to survive
a full hour, she could put the packets of time into a box, tie it with
string, and push it down a conveyer belt. Just one more minute, one
more hour, one more day.
Fumi ignored her. Although this was exactly what she wanted,
Aya found herself so confused by the activities at school, she became

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 15

10/22/15 3:29 PM

16

desperate for someone to ask. Except for the bell and the loud yelling
that announced lunch or the end of the school day, she didn’t know
how to anticipate what was going to happen next. The rhythm of the
classroom was erratic. One minute the students were called to the
blackboard to write complicated kanji in large exaggerated strokes,
the next minute everyone was doing calisthenics in the aisles beside
their desks, stretching their arms wildly or jumping up and down.
Sometimes they recited aloud. Sometimes they sat in silence reading
quietly to themselves. The textbooks were old and the pages inside
were covered with thick bars of black ink, long passages the students
had been ordered to censor themselves.
By the end of the first week, word had gotten out about Aya, the
repat girl, and after class the boys in the lower grades followed her.
They called her names and threw handfuls of sand. She was always
relieved to reach home until she looked around at her surroundings.
The tatami mats were so old and moldy they sank with each step
she took, and the wooden walls so full of holes, the dust blew right
in. To cook they had to use the charcoal shichirin in the outdoor
hallway. The communal sink was downstairs; the shared toilet was
a hole over which she had to squat, holding her nose and hoping she
wouldn’t fall in. The other residents of the nagaya—­tenement house,
she learned it meant—­were strangers. Through the walls Aya could
hear an old lady cackling loudly to herself. A middle-­aged man who
sat at home all day kept telling her father he should put Aya to work.
“Why bother sending her to school? That’s a waste of time.” Aunt
Ritsuko had said more or less the same thing. It was yet another
reason why Aya and her father had moved out and found the place
where they now lived in the center of Tokyo.

S
Three weeks passed, then four. Kondo Sensei announced one
morning that they would have a short test. Aya sat with her hands in
her lap, aware that she had forgotten to bring anything to write with.
It didn’t really matter, as she would never be able to understand the
test. Beside her she saw Fumi reach for her threadbare cloth pencil

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 16

10/22/15 3:29 PM

17

case and take out a short pencil stub. Then she watched as Fumi
pulled out a second stub, just as short as the first, and without turning her head, slid it over to Aya’s side of the desk. The stub was less
than two inches long, but the tip had been whittled carefully with a
knife into a clean sharp point.
Aya didn’t know if this was meant to be an apology, but it didn’t
matter. She took the pencil. She would take anything.

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 17

10/22/15 3:29 PM

3

S

aturday classes were half days, and Kondo usually liked to conduct review lessons to wind up the week. But today the girls
seemed more tired than usual. He’d given them an arithmetic test
two days ago, and they’d all done poorly. He wondered if it was as
demoralizing to them as it was to him. This was his first year at
Minami Nishiki, and sometimes he felt as if he were starting all over
again as a freshman instructor instead of the experienced teacher
that he was. Few of the girls looked up; most kept their heads down,
staring either at their fingers or at some blank spot on the top of their
desks. The new girl, Aya, was the worst. She never raised her head
in class, and so far she hadn’t spoken a word.
The school had recently received a donation of maps for the new
geography program, and he decided this was a good time to open
the kit he had been given.
“I have a surprise for all of you.” He could tell by the way they
shifted their weight that he had caught their attention. “It’s for your
social studies lesson. Would you like to see it?”
“Yes, Sensei!”
It was hard to tell if they were genuinely interested or simply
humoring him.
“In the past when we studied history and geography, we mistakenly studied bad history and bad geography. We don’t want to study
bad things anymore, so that’s why we have a new program called
social studies. As we know, American children are more democratic

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 18

10/22/15 3:29 PM

19

because they are taught social studies.” He cast his eyes around the
room. Most of the students were looking down at their desks again.
“Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sensei!”
“Very well. This will only take me a moment.” He went to the
cupboard in the corner of the classroom, pulled out a long thin box,
and carried it back to his desk. From the box he took out several long
metal tubes. After a few minutes of fiddling, he managed to snap
them together into the shape of a stand. He reached into the box
again and pulled out a large roll of canvas that he attached to a hook
at the top of the stand. Carefully he unfurled the map.
Kondo took a step back and examined his handiwork. The
metal roller running across the top was bent so the map hung
slightly lower on one side, and the edges of the map were frayed. In
the bottom left corner, he could make out “Property of Iowa District School Board” stamped in light blue letters. Everything was in
English, but the girls couldn’t read English yet except for a few rudimentary words and phrases. Of course the map also looked different
in more significant ways. Japan was no longer in the center and the
vast stretch of red that had once represented the empire across Asia
was entirely gone.
“Class, this is a map of the world,” he said.
There was a long silence until a small voice at the back of the
room asked, “Sensei, where is Japan?”
After squinting at the map for a moment, he picked up his
pointer and touched a spot so close to the edge of the map it looked
like it could fall off. “Here. This is Japan.”
It resembled a shriveled bean.
“This is what the world looks like. This is what we will study.”
He moved his pointer to the opposite side of the map and placed it in
the center of the United States. “Class, what country is this?”
He looked meaningfully at Aya, but she dropped her gaze
immediately.
“Sanae?” he said, picking the one student he could always count
on. “I think you know what country this is. Can you please tell the
class?”

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 19

10/22/15 3:29 PM

20

Sanae looked down at her desk. “America?” she whispered timidly.
“That’s it. Speak up so everyone can hear.”
“America.”
“Very good. And what is America most famous for?”
Again silence.
It was almost time to end class. Kondo wondered if they were
tired or bored or simply hungry. He slapped his pointer against the
map a second time, hitting it a little harder than he intended. The
metal stand wobbled unsteadily. “Come now, it’s not a hard question. You know the answer. What is America most famous for?”
Chocoretto. He heard the whisper at the back of the room but
he wasn’t sure who had spoken. Some of the girls started to giggle.
The bell rang and he set down his pointer. Kondo tried to muster his most authoritative tone of voice—­it should be confident, full
of energy, in control. He wanted them to look forward to the new
social studies program. He wanted them to understand everything
that this map represented.
“We’ll continue next week. That’s all for today. Class dismissed!”
After the last student had left, Kondo sat down at his desk. He
listened to the girls’ high-­pitched chatter grow fainter and fainter
as they walked down the school corridor. Once they had exited the
building, he was conscious of them again, this time from outside,
as their voices floated up to his ears through the open windows and
mingled with the cries of the boys and girls in the younger grades
who had been let out earlier and were playing in the school yard.
From the distance, all their voices sounded so earnest. Every so often
he heard shouts of “Stupid!” or “That’s mine!”—­the little boys
seemed particularly prone to fighting—­and he felt his heart twist
at their innocence and their youth. Even though the students in his
class were older, they were still such young girls.
The children struck him as so much more adaptable than adults.
The younger they were, the quicker they seemed to make the transition to whatever was new. They switched from miso soup to milk,
from rice to bread, and back again with barely any need to stop sipping or chewing. Maybe they were hungry, but it was more than

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 20

10/22/15 3:29 PM

21

that. Change was in the air, and the children handled it with an
insouciance that he envied.
It didn’t surprise anyone that the Americans demanded major
reforms in the education system. Naturally the old teaching, especially the morals, history, and geography classes, had to go—­too
feudalistic, too militaristic—­to be replaced by a new curriculum
that emphasized principles of democracy and individualism. The
secondary-­school system was also radically revamped by being split
into two levels: a middle school of three grades and a high school of
three grades. All levels of education were ordered to become coeducational as quickly as possible. Fortunately many elementary schools
already had boys and girls attending the same school, so the change
was not difficult, but for the higher grades making the shift was
more challenging. Many parents found it unthinkable not to have
separate education for boys and girls from the age of puberty, so this
delicate transition was being phased in more gradually.
The Americans even thought the new middle-­school grades
should have their own separate buildings (they liked to call them
junior high), but everyone recognized the absurdity of such a demand.
The economy was precarious and large sections of the city were still
in ruins. Many schools, like the one where Kondo used to teach, had
burned to the ground during the bombings, and at Minami Nishiki,
although they were lucky the foundation had been made of concrete
and the building itself survived, there wasn’t enough money to repair
the classroom walls or windows, never mind erecting a separate
structure. So they came up with an eminently practical solution: to
create the new “middle school” by simply putting a handwritten sign
over the doors of the classrooms used by the girls who were twelve
and up. The older boys had been sent to a neighboring school.
If they could, Kondo was sure the Americans would have
changed the school year, too, so it started in September the way their
schools did. They seemed to have opinions on everything. Just thinking of the enormous disruption such a change would cause made
him cringe. Anyone could see that at least in this regard the Japanese
way was better. April, when the cherry trees were in full bloom, was
clearly the best time to begin a new course of study.

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 21

10/22/15 3:29 PM

22

But what difference did the views of one individual like himself make? Whatever was going to happen would happen—­a new
social studies curriculum, different classroom arrangements, American food for the school lunches. He had to admit that the students
seemed to display no resistance at all. Maybe the Americans were
right, and even if they weren’t, it didn’t matter because no one here
could stop what was happening. Change was moving fast, like a
giant tsunami, and Kondo did what everyone else around him did.
He ran as fast as he could to keep from being crushed by the wave.
He was lucky; he knew that, too. Many former teachers had
been purged at the end of the war. They were the ones who had been
too patriotic, the kind who were a bit too eager to report on others
who they felt were not contributing as fully to the war effort as they
should. These teachers hadn’t thought much of Kondo, whose special subject area was English, the language of the enemy, and whose
ineligibility for the draft seemed very suspicious. He explained that
he had tried to sign up many times, but no matter how desperate
the army recruiters were, even when they were taking older men,
they said they had no use for someone so nearsighted. One of them
had laughed in his face. “With your eyes, you’d shoot one of us, not
the enemy!” In the last three years of the war, he had spent most of
his time in a munitions factory, supervising students who had been
deployed from school to the war effort. He sometimes wondered
what had become of them. How many had been sent to the front
and died there?
His relatives and neighbors had felt sorry for him. What a shame
he couldn’t serve, what a shame he couldn’t sacrifice himself for
the empire, as their own sons were doing. After the war was over,
although no one said it, he sensed that people didn’t pity him so
much as they resented him. He was alive, their sons were not. He
was whole and able-­limbed, while their boys had returned damaged
and broken.
“Give it back!”
“Bakayaro!”
Kondo got up and stood at the window. Two boys in the school

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 22

10/22/15 3:29 PM

23

yard were fighting. One boy was holding something up over his
head, trying to keep the other from getting it.
“Say you’re sorry, you baka.”
“No way! You stink! Kusotare.”
“You stink more.”
“Your father stinks!”
Kondo thought he recognized one of the boys. He looked like the
younger brother of one of his students, Akiko Hayashi. What was
his name? Masayoshi? Masatomi? Something like that. Both boys
wore tattered clothes that were no better than rags and even from a
distance Kondo could see the outline of their ribs through their thin
undershirts. What could they possibly be fighting over? Probably
some useless scrap. Well, let them enjoy their scuffle. He wondered
if they knew that they were also the lucky ones. He’d seen plenty of
boys their age at Ueno train station, orphaned and forced to fend for
themselves. You grew up quickly in a circumstance like that. Those
little boys had no compunction about following the GIs and their
panpan women, cadging cigarettes, chewing gum, and who knew
what else. A school-­yard scuffle belonged to another era for them.
He turned away from the window and looked at the front row
of empty desks, his eyes resting on the spot where the new girl sat.
She didn’t seem able to talk at all, and he wasn’t sure how much she
understood of what went on. What on earth was she doing here?
Who ever heard about Japanese coming back from America? Why
would anyone in their right mind do that? Leave a land of plenty
for this. Only the desperate came here, and there were lots of those.
They were from places like Manchuria and Korea, boatload after
boatload of hikiagesha, repatriates driven out of Japan’s former colonies. They flooded back to the homeland with nothing except the
clothes on their backs and the few possessions that they managed to
strap around their shoulders. “Go home.” He mouthed the words in
English. Was he talking about the repats? Or was he really thinking of the Americans? “Go home, GI Joe.” He tested the sound of
this phrase, speaking the words aloud this time and listening self-­
consciously to the echo his voice made in the empty room. It wasn’t

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 23

10/22/15 3:29 PM

24

that he hated the Americans—­he didn’t even really dislike them—­
but it seemed as if they had already been here long enough. A year
and a half, soon it would be two years, and no sign of anyone leaving.
As for Aya Shimamura, well, he’d done what he thought best,
but look at what had happened. How could he have predicted that
Fumi would behave the way she had? The principal had some ludicrous idea that Aya’s presence would somehow stimulate English-­
language learning. “Kondo-­kun,” he’d said, “I want our school to
get a head start with all this English study. You figure out how to do
it. It’s going to be English all the way from this point on, you mark
my words.” Kondo couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he had the
sense that something beyond sheer love of pedagogy was behind the
principal’s method of running his school. He was a hustler in his
own way, yet Kondo had to admit that the principal was able to get
things done. Hadn’t he managed to make their school one of the first
to receive the new maps from America? Of course, all schools were
going to get them sooner or later, but the fact that the principal had
gotten his hands on one of the first was an accomplishment you had
to admire.
Kondo stood up and walked over to the map where it still hung
on its spindly metal frame. He was about to roll it up and put it away
when something held him transfixed. Slowly, softly, he began pronouncing the English names he saw stamped in thick black letters
across the different countries. The world was so vast, it struck him,
so much vaster than any of them could ever imagine, living as they
did in their one tiny corner of the globe.
He should write the names of the most important countries
and capital cities in Japanese underneath the English lettering, he
thought. That would help his students. They were good girls but not
all of them were as sharp as he wished they were. Yes, he could do
that much. He had a fine calligraphic hand, and he would bring his
good brush and ink from home. But it would have to wait until next
week. Right now he had to set off for his spot in the Alley, a place
near Shibuya station that he felt confident none of his fellow teachers knew about. As the weather was so nice, he decided to walk. It
would take well over an hour but he wanted to save on streetcar fare.

Kuts_9780385540674_2p_all_r1.indd 24

10/22/15 3:29 PM

`

The Wolf Road

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 7

11/19/15 12:24 PM

The End a’ Old Me

I sat up high, oak branch ’tween my knees, and watched the tattooed man stride about in the snow. Pictures all over his face, no
skin left no more, just ink and blood. Looking for me, he was. Always looking for me. He left red drops in the white, fallen from his
fish knife. Not fish blood though. Man blood. Boy blood. Lad from
Tucket lost his scalp to that knife. Scrap of hair and pink hung from
the man’s belt. That was dripping too, hot and fresh. He’d left the
body in the thicket for the wolves to find.
I blew smoky breath into my hands.
“You’re a long way from home, Kreagar,” I called down.
The trees took my voice and scattered it to pieces. Winter made
skeletons of the forest, see, made camouflage tricky ’less you know
what you’re doing, and I know exactly what I’m doing. He weren’t
going to find no tracks nor footprints nowhere in this forest what
weren’t his, I know better’n that. Kreagar looked all around, up high
and ’neath brushes, but I’ve always been good at hiding.
“Who’s that talkin’ at me out in the trees?” he shouted. His voice
was like rubbing bone on bark. Something raw in it when he raged,
but when he was kind it was soft rumbling that cut through a chill
night. I didn’t want to think about him being kind no more. His
kindness was lies and masks.
“Saw what you did to that boy,” I said, “saw where you put him.
See his curly hair on your belt.”

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 1

11/19/15 12:24 PM

2 〔 B eth Lewis

Kreagar sniffed hard. Cold making his nose run into his beard.
Teeth bared like one of them mountain bears. Didn’t even have a
shirt on, never did when he did his killing. Blood splashed all over
his chest, mingling with the tattoos and wiry black hair.
“That you, Elka girl? That my Elka playing squirrel in the trees?”
he shouted.
“I ain’t yours,” I said, “never was, never gonna be.”
I took out my knife. Long blade, barbed saw teeth on the back,
and staghorn handle.
Kreagar stamped around the forest, showing all the critters
where he was, trailing blood like a damn invitation.
“Come down, give ol’ Kreag a hug. I’ve missed you.”
“I don’t think so. Think I’ll stay right where I am.”
His eyes searched the trees. Black as pitch them eyes, black as
disease and disorder and hate and lies. He grinned, flat white teeth
like gravestones, and twirled his little fish gutter in his fingers,
flinging blood everywhere, rolling out the red carpet.
“Elka, you know I don’t mean you no harm.” His voice turned
friendly. “I’d never hurt my Elka.”
He wandered around like a blind man, trudging through the
snow, steam lifting off his body. Always hot after a killing. He was
lean, carved out of wood some say, and but for the tattoos had a
face you’d take home to your mother. He leaned up against a cottonwood tree, panting to keep the cold out, getting sick of hide-­and-­
seek.
“Could a’ killed you a hundred times, girlie,” he said, slow.
“Could a’ taken my pig sticker and cut your neck to navel while you
slept. Could a’ peeled your skin off easy as boiled trout.”
I remembered all those years calling him Daddy and felt sick.
“Could a’ made my winter boots out of your back,” he carried on,
voice getting more excited, smile getting bigger, like he was reeling

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 2

11/19/15 12:24 PM

The Wolf Road 〕 3

off courses at a feast. “New belt out of your arms. Could a’ stuffed
my mattress with your silky brown hair.”
He laughed and I felt sicker. He raised his knife, pointed it into
the trees, right at my face though he didn’t know it.
“You’d make a fine pair of boots, Elka girl.”
Heard it all before but it didn’t stop the cold creeping up my
back, cold that weren’t snow. Cold that weren’t ice and winter. I’d
heard him say worse but never to me. I was still afraid of him, the
things he’d done, the things he made me do. But damn if I wasn’t
trying to turn it to good.
“All these months you been looking for me, Kreagar, and I found
you first.”
I raised up my own knife. Weighted right nice for throwing. I
told him in my head to stay there against the tree, told him don’t
you move a muscle.
“I been worried something rotten for you, Elka. This world ain’t
no place for a kid like you on your own. There are worse things than
wolves in the dark. Worse things than me.”
But for the blood he could have been a normal Joe out on a stroll.
But for the kid’s scalp swinging in the breeze, he could’ve been anyone. But he wasn’t. He was Kreagar Hallet. Murdering, kid-­killing
bastard Kreagar Hallet. Took me far too long to figure that out and
no prettied-­up words would change it now.
I stood up on the branch without making more’n a snowflake
shudder and wound back my arm. Breathed out. Pictured him like
a deer. Threw my knife with all the force I had, straight and true
and hit him in that soft spot just below the collarbone. That metal
went through his shoulder into that tree, pinned him hard, heard
that wood thud you get during target practice. And I’d done a lot of
target practice. Damn if that weren’t a perfect shot.
Hollered and howled he did, more out of shock than pain. Didn’t

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 3

11/19/15 12:24 PM

4 〔 B eth Lewis

think his little Elka could throw that hard, I’ll bet. Kreagar shouted
some things I daren’t repeat, some threats that shouldn’t see light
of day. His own blood met the boy’s. The fat black lines on his chest
now coated red, hot and steaming fresh in the cold.
He tried to pull it out, but I cut them barbs deep. He screamed
like a dying sow when he tried.
“Get here, girl, I’m gonna rip you up!”
Still looking around for me, screaming up something fierce. He
roared at me, filling the forest, making birds flee their nests, rabbits
scrabble into their warrens, but he still couldn’t see me. Ghost I was
in those woods. He’d taught me well.
“I’m gonna find you! I’m gonna kill you slow, Elka!”
I couldn’t help but laugh. I had him. Finally. Sprung the trap and
caught me a rabid bear.
“Magistrate Lyon’s going to find you first,” I said. “Told her
where you is and where the boy is too. She’ll see what you did to
him. She’s been hunting you a long time, across mountains she’s
gone, looking for you.”
That shut him up. Color drained right out of him. Nobody wants
Lyon and her six-­shooter on their tail, and Kreagar had for months.
But then, so had I.
He started pleading, trying the friendly on me, but I wasn’t
hearing it. Strands of spit hung off his beard, flaring out with every
breath. I watched him until I heard the clomping horse hooves,
kicking up snow and soil. Steam rising off hard-­ridden flanks. I
smiled. Magistrate Lyon and her lieutenants, here to bring in the
bad guy. Another life and that bad guy could a’ been me.
No reward, of course; gold don’t mean nothing to me no more,
only life got value in my mind.
I saw them coming through the trees, Kreagar still stuck and
hollering, panicking and pulling on the handle, that blood trail
leading them right to his feet.

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 4

11/19/15 12:24 PM

The Wolf Road 〕 5

Lyon’s smarter than Kreagar, got eyes like a sparrow hawk, she’d
see me in half a breath and she’d take me too for what I done. She’d
have questions. Big ones I didn’t feel much like answering.
Kreagar heard them hooves, heard them whinnying mares. His
eyes went wide like a buck about to be shot, and that’s when I got to
leave it up to the law. Shame about the knife. That skinned me many
a rabbit and marten, saved my life more’n once too. A good knife
is hard to come by, about as hard as finding a good person in this
damned country. When your life is your only currency and you got
debts to pay, a good knife can make all the difference. I might’ve lost
my blade, but I paid my debt. Lyon shouldn’t come looking for me
no more. Unless a’ course, Kreagar tells her the truth.

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 5

11/19/15 12:24 PM

The Beginning, or Close as You Gonna Get

When the thunderhead comes, drumming through the sky, you
take cover, you lock your doors, and you find a place to pray because if it finds you, there ain’t no going back. When the thunderhead came to Ridgeway, my clapboard town, I had nowhere to hide.
Seven years old I was and screaming up something fierce at my
nana. She wanted me to go collect pine resin for the lamps. Said it
made ’em burn with a pretty smell. I told her pretty is for fools and
I didn’t want no pine smelling up my house.
“My house, girl,” she said, “you just a guest here till your parents
come back. Pray that it be soon.”
I think I had a different name back then. Don’t remember Nana
ever calling me Elka.
I told her to go spit seeds and started howling.
“That mouth of yours is black as the goddamn devil’s,” she
shouted in that tone what meant I was in for a beating. Saw her
reaching for her walking stick. Had me welts the shape a’ that stick
fresh on my back.
“My mouth ain’t nothin’, you ain’t my momma, you can’t tell me
nothin’.” I was wailing and trying my damnedest to push over the
eating table, to send all them plates and three types a’ fork scattering all over. That’d show her, I figured, show her good.
Nana let out one a’ her big sighs. Seen other old folk in Ridgeway
sigh like that, like they weren’t just sick a’ the person giving them

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 6

11/19/15 12:24 PM

The Wolf Road 〕 7

ire but sick a’ the world what was full a’ them. All them years, Nana
must a’ been hundreds, all them wrinkles creasing up her face, that
sigh is what them years sound like: wheezing, long, and dog tired.
“Your momma,” Nana said, “my fool of a daughter, running off
with that man.” She looked at me like I was Momma for a minute,
kindness in her eye, then must a’ seen that Daddy half a’ me and got
mad again. She clenched up all her teeth so hard I wondered brief if
they was going to crack and fly out her head.
“They coming back to get me,” I said, whining voice full a’ tears.
“Daddy gonna show you the back a’ his hand for beating me.”
Nana laughed, high-­pitched and trilling like a shrike bird. “Your
daddy’s too busy hunting gold up in the north and your momma’s
too busy shining his boots to think of you, girl. You’re stuck with
me and I’m stuck with you, so you better go out and get that resin
or so help me child I’ll beat you blue.”
Nana’s fists was tight and her body was shaking. She was a rake
of a woman but she was Mussa Valley born, built head to toe out a’
grit and stubborn. She had strength in her what you’d never credit
behind that paper skin. Broke my arm once, she did, with just them
hands a’ hers.
I crossed my arms over my chest and I huffed and I said I didn’t
want no pine and I hated pine ’bout as much as I hated her.
Then she threw up her arms, sick of me, and said she was going
walking.
“Don’t you follow me,” she said, “I don’t even want to look at you
no more.”
She’d been gone not half an hour when the sky boomed black,
cut out the sun. Sounded like a mountain splitting apart. No matter how many times I’ve heard that since, I get the fear. Cold runs
up my bones from my toes to my skull. I shake. I sweat like a snow
fox in summer. All because of that day. All because my nana left me
alone when the thunderhead came.

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 7

11/19/15 12:24 PM

8 〔 B eth Lewis

Our little two-­room shack, far out in the forest, didn’t stand a
chance against that weather. Nana said her and Grandpa, afore he
died in the Second Conflict some twenty years past, rebuilt that
shack a hundred times and she’d rebuild it a hundred more no
doubt. Nana and me was like butting rams most days but not all my
thoughts a’ that shack were dark. When that thunderhead came,
I sure as shit wanted that woman and them iron arms ’round my
shoulders.
I saw the thunderhead coming down from the north, rolling
’tween the hills at the top of our valley. Our idiot valley. Acted like
a corral, funneled all that raging storm right toward our forest, our
front door, and to Ridgeway a few miles down the way. It kicked up
rocks and broken branches and mashed them all together with ice
and rain. I saw it out the window, roaring down the hill like a grizzly in heat.
Ground shook. My toes went cold. The roof ripped off and
smashed against the cedars. I don’t remember screaming but I’m
sure I was. Felt like all hell was coming down on my seven-­year-­old
head. Cracking thunder all but deafened me. Hail and rain all but
froze me solid. I hid under the eating table, arms and legs wrapped
tight around its leg, and shouted at it all to go away, leave me be.
Shouted for my nana to come back. Cursed her name more’n once.
Then I was in the air. Table lifted up like a dry leaf and afore I
knew it, I was too high to let go. I dug my nails into the wood and
scrunched up my eyes. Rocks and twigs snagged at me, cut up my
arms and legs, pulled out my hair in clumps. Tiny balls of ice hit my
face and felt like hot metal filings. That wind threw me and the table
around like we was nothing. Only existing for the fun of the thunder. Table got ripped away or I let go, I don’t know. Spinning and
careening and screaming. No idea if sky was up, rock was down, or
if I was already dead.
I don’t know much a’ what happened next. The storm must a’

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 8

11/19/15 12:24 PM

The Wolf Road 〕 9

let me go, had enough of playing. Next thing I knew I was falling,
rushing air pulling at me, storm passing off to the east. Headfirst
into the Thick Woods. I fell through close branches, smells of cedar
and alder and cypress. Cradled me, slowed me, till one a’ them
branches didn’t want to let me go. My vest ripped and snagged
and I was swinging ten feet up from the dirt. Felt blood on me and
cuts stinging and my lungs was stripped from screaming. Then my
vest ripped and I dropped. Landed with a thud on the moss, a pain
shooting right up my back.
Dazed, I was. I remember that clear as spring. The thunderhead
blew itself out over the ridge. They never last long though they make
sure you never forget them. I sat in that same spot in the Thick
Woods, swaying, gathering up all that had just happened in my
baby head. Trying to make some kind a’ sense of it all. Could a’ been
ten minutes. Could a’ been half a day. Think it was when I started to
get hungry that I snapped out of it.
Everything was green and brown. Couldn’t see the sky for the
branches. Couldn’t see more’n a few feet in front of me. Lucky I was
small and could squeeze ’tween the trunks.
“Nana,” I shouted, “Nana, where you at?”
But the forest didn’t answer. Didn’t take me long to realize Nana
weren’t coming.
She said we lived south in the valley. Ridgeway town was souther
still. Showed it me on a map one time. I figured the thunderhead
came from the north, so that’s where it took me back to. My young
head said go south. South was down on the map so that’s the way I
went. Down any hill I could find.
Got lost quick.
I tried picturing all those places on that map of BeeCee. That’s
what we call our country now, just letters of its real name what most
people have forgot or don’t care to remember. The map said that
old name behind all the scribblings, all the new borders and ter-

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 9

11/19/15 12:24 PM

10 〔 B eth Lewis

ritories my nana drawn on, but I could only read letters then, not
whole words. All I know is that one day all the maps became useless
and we had to make our own. The old’uns called that day the Fall
or the Reformation. Nana said some down in the far south called
it Rapture. Nana was a babe when it happened, said her momma
called it the Big Damn Stupid. Set everything back to zero. I never
asked why, never much cared. Life is life and you got to live it in the
here-­now not the back-­then. And the here-­now for little me was the
Thick Woods, with night coming fast.
I had these little boots on, cute things stitched from marten
pelt, soft and warm but no good for traveling. They tore up in a few
hours. The thunderhead torn a swatch out a’ the knee of my denims
and them trees had chewed up my vest so’s it was barely hanging
on to me. Seven-­year-­old me walked till it got dark. Belly rumbling
worse’n the storm. I started crying proper then, big fat tears, blubbering and wailing. I huddled myself inside a hollowed-­out log as
the darkness crept through the trees. Bugs and grubs crawled all
over me. I shivered so hard it shook rotten wood dust into my hair.
Never been alone before. Always had Nana close by and afore
her, though I barely remember them, my momma and dad. Nana
said they’d gone north—­far, far up the world to find their fortune
and bring it home to me. That was a few years ago. They sent a letter
’bout a year after they went, brought to the Ridgeway general store
by some kind traveler heading that way. I couldn’t read it, ’course,
but I made Nana read it to me till I knew all them words like I
know my own name. Words like “gold” and “sluice” and them what
sounded foreign and exciting; “Halveston,” the “Great YK,” “Carmacks,” “Martinsville.” My momma and daddy’s names. I made
Nana read them over and over. Made the world and them sound
close and far all at one time, that letter did. I kept it ’neath my pillow, ink fading with readings and years. Put an ache in my chest
thinking the thunderhead took it.

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 10

11/19/15 12:24 PM

The Wolf Road 〕 11

I sniffed hard, sucked up all my fears, and tried to sleep. Worst
night of my life that was. No matter all them nights that came after.
No matter all those cold, dark things that happened. That one night
was the worst. It was the first time I realized that you’re all you’ve
got in this world. One moment you can be in your home, fire in the
grate, clothes on your back, your kin nattering beside you, the next
moment you’re lost. Taken up by the thunderhead and dropped
into nowhere. No point fixating on all those other things. My nana
weren’t there, that letter weren’t there. My parents sure as shit
weren’t there. I had me and I had that log and, though I would’ve
loved some hot stew right then, I couldn’t much complain. I wriggled about, got somewhere close to comfort, and shut my eyes.
Something scratched at the side of the log. Claws running down
bark. My eyes sprang open.
My heart damn near stopped. Night was full, I must a’ been
sleeping. Moonlight cut through the branches. Sky’s always crystal
after a storm, almost brighter’n day sometimes. But these woods
were thick and old and I couldn’t see farther than the swaying fern
tips an arm’s reach outside the log.
Fern twitched. Heart raced.
Scrabbling got louder. Came closer.
I stopped breathing, hoping it wouldn’t find me. I thought I saw
bear claws, heard big grizzly sniffling. Forest was playing tricks. I
burst out that log quicker than a rabbit down a hole and ran. Ran
and ran and ran. Didn’t look back once. Not a clue how long I ran
for, how far. Then I smelled smoke and saw a light.
“Nana,” I shouted. “Nana! I found you!”
The hut sat square in a small clearing. This weren’t Nana’s shack.
This place was smaller. A pipe out the roof puffed smoke and the
light spilling out the window showed the fire inside was burning
hot. A wooden awning came off the front, propped up with two
thick trunks and below it, close to the door, two A-­frames stretch-

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 11

11/19/15 12:24 PM

12 〔 B eth Lewis

ing deer hide. Dozen or so metal traps clinked together, hung over
a branch. Wire snares, broken and not, littered all over the ground
and hanging from trees. Thin strips of red meat dried on racks.
Sight a’ them made my belly grumble and filled up my mouth with
water. Nana always told me not to steal from good folks, but I figured there were so many the trapper wouldn’t miss just one strip.
’Sides, I didn’t know if he was good folks and Nana never said nothing ’bout stealing from the bad’uns.
I snuck up, quiet as a wolf on the hunt, listening all around for
trouble. The racks were just under the awning and I had to pass by
one of the windows. I told myself I was a shadow, invisible in the
dark, and I could run so fast no fat old trapper could catch me. The
smell of that meat was a drug. That metallic tang, that sting of salt
and smoke. I thought I could smell juniper in it, maybe even some
applewood. Sweet and salty and close enough to touch. I yanked
a wide strip of that jerky and a high-­pitched bell rang at the door.
Smart trapper. Alarmed his dinner in case of bears and hungry
girls.
Big boots stomped inside. I shoved the jerky in my mouth and
ran. Couldn’t tell what meat it was, deer or moose or something
else, but it tasted as good as it smelled. The hut door flung open. The
trapper didn’t shout, but I looked back anyway. Hat on his head,
just a black shape, but he had a shotgun. Wasn’t no law out in those
parts and he had every right to shoot a thief on his land. I forced my
tired legs to run.
Then I heard him coming after me.
I was a hare darting quick and low and quiet. He was a lumbering ox, crashing through.
My heart thundered. I didn’t want to die in that forest, shot for
taking a mouthful of meat I didn’t even get to enjoy. Curse that
thunderhead for dropping me here, I cried and bawled. Must a’

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 12

11/19/15 12:24 PM

The Wolf Road 〕 13

been screaming. That trapper followed me close. He never shouted
for me to stop, same as you don’t shout for a buck to stop afore you
pull the trigger.
He’s going to kill me, I thought. Shoot me to shreds.
A trailing scrap of fur on my boots caught on a branch, tripped
me. Don’t know how I kept that jerky in my mouth, but I did, even
as I fell ass-­over-­face into a dry creek bed. Landed face-­first in the
dirt and everything went quiet. No more ox crashing. No more
footsteps.
I’d lost him. I’d got the better of that trapper. Got his jerky and
got away. I sat up on my knees and ripped off a chunk of that meat,
swallowed it whole.
Something made me look over my shoulder. That feeling you
get in your bones when someone is watching you. A shadow stood
over me.
Big and black and breathing. I didn’t even see the butt of the
shotgun.
Woke up in the trapper’s hut with a sore head wrapped in a bandage. He sat on a chair by the door, staring at me with eyes like the
devil. Shotgun rested against his leg, his hat on his knee. He must a’
fallen too, his face was all covered in streaks of black dirt.
“Where’d you come from?” he said. His voice had a breath of
kindness to it.
Nana told me not to speak to strangers, and this man, living far
out in the woods all by himself, was the strangest I’d met.
“Where you going to?” he said. Didn’t seem all that surprised
I weren’t talking. “You got a momma and daddy? Where they at?”
I blinked then, shook my head. “Just my nana.”
He smiled, showed off a row of flat white teeth.
“Now we gettin’ somewhere,” he said. “Where you and your
nana live? Dalston? Ridgeway?”

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 13

11/19/15 12:24 PM

14 〔 B eth Lewis

Something in my face must a’ gave me away.
“Ridgeway then,” he said. He rubbed his cheek but none of the
mud came off. “You a long way from home, girl.”
He put his hand on the shotgun barrel and relaxed in his chair.
“You can just point me the right way,” I said, “and I’ll be gone
afore you know it.”
“There are beasts in these woods would eat you up quicker’n you
can scream. Couldn’t let you do that.”
I shuffled a bit on the bed, felt my cheeks get hot and red. I
couldn’t tell much about the trapper, other than he wore old denims like me and his shirt was ripped like mine. A coat made of fur
and skins hung next to the door with a pair of snowshoes propped
up under. His shirt, once white, had spots and smears of something
dark brown on it, maybe dried blood from the animals. He stared at
me long and hard and my belly started growling again.
“I ain’t got no real way of telling if you’re speaking true or false,”
he said. “You could be a troublemaker on the run from the law. You
could be a thief and stolen worse than a bite of jerky. You could be
anyone.”
My nana would a’ said I was a troublemaker, but I weren’t telling
him that.
“I’m headin’ down to Ridgeway in the morning to trade some
pelts—­two-­day round-­trip, mind.” He stopped, rubbed his face
again, mud stayed put, and by then I weren’t sure if it was really
mud.
“Your business is your own, girlie, but I’ll do some asking and
see if I can find your nana. If I do and she wants you back, I’ll take
you to her.”
“I’ll help you find her quicker,” I said, scooting off the edge of
the bed. I got dizzy then and fell down, landed hard on my hands
and knees.
The trapper didn’t move to help me, just said, “you couldn’t walk

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 14

11/19/15 12:24 PM

The Wolf Road 〕 15

more’n a mile in that state. You’re just a baby, no more than a few
winters on you. You’re dead weight until you can carry a rifle.
“Go to sleep,” he said, and picked up his hat. “I’ll be gone when
you wake up. Keep the fire lit and don’t touch nothing.”
He put his hat over his face and leant his head back against the
door.
I climbed back onto the bed and pulled up the blanket. “You got
a name?” I asked.
“I got a few,” he said without moving his hat.
Something in the way he said that put a seed of fear in me. I
pulled the blanket up close to my chin and hunkered down. There
was no chance of me sleeping that night. I didn’t take my eyes off
him. He didn’t make a sound all night. Not a snore. Not a sniff.
Didn’t move, didn’t even let go of the shotgun. Even my nana slept
louder than that. He was like one of them statues carved out of
stone. Nana took me down to Couver City to see them last summer.
She said I needed culturing, whatever that meant. Couver was hit
hard in the Damn Stupid, says Nana, and only a few of them statues
are left in the ruins. Three-­day ride up and down that was. After
six days in the saddle, sitting awkward ’tween Nana and the horse’s
neck, I told her I didn’t care for culturing.
I must’ve slept because one moment I was fixing my eyes on the
trapper and the next it was dawn and the chair was empty. Shotgun and him were gone. Keep the fire lit, he’d said, and don’t touch
nothing. I never been much good at following the say-­so of grown-­
ups, not even now I’m grown-­up myself.
First thing I did was get another strip of jerky from the rack
outside. Then I stoked up the fire and roasted up that meat so it
was crispy and charred at the edges, and I had me a fine breakfast.
Then I went through the trapper’s things. Found a few coins no one
uses no more, bowls carved out a’ cherrywood, a little wooden box
locked up tight, and a knife sharp enough to skin a boar in three

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 15

11/19/15 12:24 PM

16 〔 B eth Lewis

seconds flat. It had a long bone handle, probably deer or moose leg,
and the blade was longer’n my forearm. Beautiful thing, I remember thinking, and I sliced up my jerky just to feel it in action. I told
myself then that I would have a knife like this. Maybe I could get the
trapper to make me one.
I got bored quick. Two-­day trip to Ridgeway and back he said.
Meant I was further from home than I’d ever been and I didn’t
know north or south or up or down or which way would take me
back to Nana. Shit, by then, that knife in my hands and no grown­up telling me what-­for, I weren’t even sure I wanted to go back.
Trapper didn’t have much of anything and once I had a full
belly, I didn’t have nothing to occupy me. I went outside, kicked
dirt, climbed trees, watched the sun reach noon and start falling
into dusk. I wondered if he’d reached Ridgeway yet. If he’d asked
around about me. Strange that he didn’t ask for my name. Strange
that he didn’t ask where ’bouts in Ridgeway I lived. Because, strictly,
I didn’t live in Ridgeway. Nana’s shack was up the valley. Enough
people in town knew about us that I thought he wouldn’t have no
problem finding her.
I kept the fire hot and twirled that bone-­handle knife in my little
hands. Thinking of all the things I could do with it. How thin I
could slice jerky, how neat and quick I could kill a rabbit. Night
came fast with those thoughts swimming inside me and I fell asleep
on the floor by the fire.
Woke up to spring dawn singing through the trees and spent
that day much as I had the last—­exploring the land, finding rabbit
runs. I even reset one a’ the trapper’s squirrel poles what must a’
fallen in the thunderhead.
Sun was dipping and I was sucking on another piece of meat,
knife in hand, when the trapper came back. He came in the door
with a sack over his shoulder. He stared at me, jerky hanging out my
mouth and blade in my hands and he didn’t say nothing. Something

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 16

11/19/15 12:24 PM

The Wolf Road 〕 17

in his head ticked over and he stopped a beat, then dropped the sack
with a sound like logs tumbling off a pile.
“Found your nana,” he said, and hung up his coat.
Felt a sting in me, like my fun was cut short and I’d be back to
beatings and her schooling tomorrow. I set down the knife on the
floor and I stared at that blade like I was giving up my favorite toy.
“You takin’ me back tomorrow?” I said. Part a’ me wanted to
see my nana, but I knew soon as she saw me she’d have me hauling
planks to fix the shack or learning letters at that whiteboard a’ hers.
Then he said, “your nana got caught out in the thunderhead, tree
fell on her.”
“She dead?”
Trapper nodded once and kept his eyes on me.
Shame on me that my first thinking was: Hot-­damn, I don’t got
to go back to schooling. Shame on me twice that my second was:
Serves her right for treating me rough. Then came the aching like
my insides was full a’ river mud, thick and sucking me down, a
deep place a’ sorrow I didn’t want no part of. I weren’t all that sure
how to feel in them moments. Should I be crying? But I didn’t feel
nothing like crying. Should I be whooping for joy? But I didn’t feel
like doing that neither. I stared at that knife, chewing on that jerky,
quietlike for an age. Trapper didn’t say nothing, he just watched me,
waiting to see what I’d do, what kind a’ person I was.
He shifted his foot, floorboard creaked. My eyes was locked on
that blade and my head and my heart came together and told me
how to feel. I reached for the knife.
Soon as I touched that white bone handle I realized quick I chose
right. I didn’t much want to go back to Nana’s shack; she never let
me eat jerky and play with knives. Her ways were learning letters
and sums, clean hands and clean clothes. Them ways weren’t mine
and much as she’d tried to force it, they never were.
The trapper nodded at the meat ’tween my teeth.

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 17

11/19/15 12:24 PM

18 〔 B eth Lewis

“You like that?” he asked.
I nodded.
“You know how to use that knife?”
I weren’t quite sure what he meant, but I nodded again.
“You ever skinned a hare?”
I flinched then. I had, year or two ago, but when Nana caught
me she whipped my back bloody. Second time she caught me she
broke my arm.
“You ever skinned a hare, girl?” he asked again, something raw
in his voice.
“Yes, sir, I have.”
“If you can skin a hare you can ’bout skin anything,” he said,
and pointed to the sack. “Traded my furs for a pig. I already jointed
it for easy carryin’. Take off the skin and fat, take off the meat, and
cut it thin for smokin’. Got it?”
I nodded and stepped forward. The trapper lifted up the sack
and poured out the chunks of pig. Pink skin and pale flesh, it would
work fine with applewood; I could almost taste it already. Even
though I was just seven, I always knew I was born to work a knife.
Took me most of the night but I did it, and all while the trapper
watched over me, sipping on a flask. He didn’t once tell me to be
careful. Didn’t say much ’cept “other way,” when I got to separating
the knuckle.
Come dawn we both laid the strips on racks and hung them up
in the tiny smokehouse outside.
The trapper put a hand on my shoulder then and said, “You got
a gift with a blade, girlie, I’ll teach you to use it right. Names don’t
mean nothing in these woods, but I got to call you something.”
Then he looked at me, pulled at my scruffy hair.
“Rougher’n elk’s fur, this,” he said.
So he called me Elka, ’stead of Elk, on account of me being a girl.
I stopped asking for his name after a few weeks and just called him

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 18

11/19/15 12:24 PM

The Wolf Road 〕 19

Trapper in my head. He taught me to tie a snare, taught me to set a
deadfall trap and shoot a squirrel from fifty yards. All I had to do
was help him clean the kills, prep the traps, stretch and scrape the
furs, and tend to the hut. I slept on the floor by the fire and him in
his bed. Though, thinking about it, I don’t think he slept much. He
hunted a lot at night, said the wolves come out at night but he never
brought back a wolf pelt.
That was my life then and damn if it weren’t fun. I was a new
person, I forgot my old name quick, and I was Elka from then on. I
could make a bow and arrow from sticks and shoot me a marten. I
forgot my sums and my letters. I forgot my nana and near forgot my
folks, though them words in the letter never went out my head. All
them skills Trapper taught me I remember to this day, but there are
big ol’ patches a’ them years that are fuzzy and dark, whole months
a’ winter what went in a blink. Much as I tried, I couldn’t fill up
them gaps.
But hell, I was an idiot kid. Trapper was my family even though
I didn’t know a sure thing about him, but I figured quick I didn’t
know much more ’bout my parents and they was kin. Trapper was
the kind a’ family you choose for yourself, the kind that gets closer’n
blood. He was my daddy from then, I just needed to find myself a
momma.

Lewi_9781101906125_1p_all_r1.indd 19

11/19/15 12:24 PM

`

TWISTED
RIVER
Siobhan MacDonald

(0)
PENGUIN BOOKS

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_FM_p-x rnc!::J 3

@

7130/15 6 03PM

I

Oscar
C U R R A G O W E R FA L L S , L I M E R I C K , I R E L A N D
L AT E O C TO B E R

S

he would never have fit as neatly into the trunk of his own car.
He presses two fingers against her beautiful neck. Just in case.
No pulse. The blow was fatal. He looks at her one last time and closes
the trunk.
Her blood is all over his hands. Oscar stares at the curious patterns forming on his pale skin. No latex gloves this time. He tries to
think. In the cold he hardly moves, watching the tiny pearls of red
slide down the coarse hairs to his wedding band. The burning in his
stomach spreads upward to his chest. His control is slipping, his panicked breath forming small clouds in the dark. Oscar is in turmoil.
From man to shivering animal in the space of three minutes.
Across the road, water rages over the falls. Oscar has felt like this
before. It was a long time ago but the memory is vivid. In fourth
grade, he punches Annabel K lein so hard in the stomach that she
vomits. Another memory flashes before him. This time he’s standing
over Birgitte, watching her die. Up the road, the church bells sound a
mournful chime. What’s done is done.
There comes the sudden beat of wings. Looking up, Oscar sees an
arrowhead of swans slicing through the night sky. A splutter of rain starts

9780143108436_TwistedRiver_TX_p1-262.indd 1

7/30/15 5:59 PM

2

=-

Siobhan MacDonald

to fall, the drops making a tinkling sound on the plastic bags scattered at
his feet. Shards of glass from a smashed jar of peanut butter mingle with
exploded bags of popcorn. There's a squashed banana-the flesh pulped
from its skin-and a packet ofbrownie mix daubed in blood.
Should he look in the trunk of the car one more time to make sure?
He fumbles forthe catch. It isn't like his BMW. This is a VW sedan.
The car they'd agonized in, attempting to sort things out. He'd so
wanted to straighten things out. His fingers slip left and right, searching
for the catch. The VW badge is smeared with blood. There it is. He
squeezes with his thumb and forefinger.
"Dad?"
He freezes. He hadn't seen the kids pick their way across the gravel.
"Elliot?"
His nine-year-old is shivering in pajamas in the driveway.Jess, his
twelve-year-old daughter, is behind him.
"You've been gone a long time, Dad," says Elliot.
It's more a question than a statement.
Jess stands there, perplexed, eyes innocent and wide. He sees her
scanning the debris of the grocery shopping all over the driveway. His
children cannot know what just happened. They must be protected, no
matter what. The roaring in his ears begins to build again. He wills
his mouth into a smile, pulling his lips over his teeth. He hopes it looks
convincing.
Jess's face drains of color as she edges toward him. The sound in
his ears is almost unbearable.
"What is it, Jess?"
He can see her mouth is moving. She is asking something.
"What did you say?" he shouts.
"Where's Mom?" she shouts back.

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p1-262 mdd

2

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

Kate

CURRAGOWER FALLS
EARLY SEPTEMBER

K

ate could never quite make up her mind whether she loved or
loathed September. A flurry of withered leaves danced over her

feet as she scurried down the steps of the Clare Street campus and set
off briskly for home. Snatching a quick glance at her watch, her heart
skipped a beat. She was cutting it fine. She quickened her step. She had
to make it home before five. Nota second later. It was anew routine, now
that summer break was over. It had been harder with all the idle time this
year. Things had been different when they'd had the beach house.
Today had been difficult. Once upon a time Kate would have
jumped at the chance ofbecoming assistant head of the Visual Communications Department. She would have been thrilled to bits. But
that was before there were other demands on her. She should have
been elated at being offered the position so soon after her return to the
workforce. Instead, she felt a bittersweet sadness at having to turn it
down. Life was about choices and this was a choice she had to make.
Simon Walsh, the head of department, had looked at her in disbelief
"This is a windup. You're teasing me, right?"
With a heavy heart, Kate shook her head.
"But , Kate, you're the best person for the job," Simon protested.

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p1- 262 mdd 3

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

4

Siobhan MacDonald

"You know that. I know that. I know you're only just back but you've
got the talent and you know this department like no one else."
"I know that, Simon. And I'm flattered. Really, I am. But things at
home, you know ..." She hesitated. "It's just notthat easy. The job I have
now I can manage. Assistant head is a whole other proposition. Extra
responsibility, more time here on campus. I have thought about it. Believe me."
Realizing she was serious, Simon ran a distracted hand through
his long hair. "There has to be a way. I was so looking forward to
having you as my wingman."
Again, Kate shookherhead. She'dmadeuphermind.
'Tm sorry. There'll be other equally suitable candidates. Anyway,
surely the job has to be openly advertised?"
Disgruntled, Simon had taken off, shoving his hands deep into
the pockets of his crumpled linen jacket.
Already Kate was at the Abbey Bridge and a gust of wind pulled
at her slackly fastened chignon, threatening to loosen it. A man on a
bicycle swept by, close to the curb. She smiled to herself. It appeared
he had every worldly good he owned in his pannier. A black and white
dog with attitude sat in the basket up front. Again she looked at her
watch. There were scarcely fifteen minutes left. Would she make it?
In the old days she might have taken the car but they had only one car
now and Mannix had it today. Her laced-up boots started to chafe
against her skin as she broke into a jog.
Suddenly, Kate heard the pounding of feet from the rear. Two
guys with white hooded tops ran past her. It wasn't clear if one was the
quarry and the other the prey or if they were running together. Moments later a squad car screamed through the evening traffic pursuing
the two fleeing creatures until they disappeared through an alleyway
and out of sight. Unperturbed, Kate continued her journey, the satchel
full of papers clapping up and down on her hip.
This was a city where the haves lived side by side with the havenots. A city whose messy bits were not hidden from view. Even though
these encounters were common enough, Kate was always cautious

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p12· 62 mdd

4

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

Twisted River

"""""

5

making her way home past the inner-city housing schemes by the old
walls of the city. She was panting now. She glanced again at her wrist.
Five more minutes to go.
Once she got to the ancient walls ofKingjohn's Castle, Kate could
just about see her house across the river. She could imagine it in her
mind's eye, just around that bend ofhouses that overlooked the falls.
Kate liked this part of town. She liked the fact that it had probably
looked largely the same over the span of centuries. Thomond Bridge
with the falls on one side, the low humpbacked rolling hills on the
other. The whalebone-white arches ofThomond Park Stadium in the
distance. The Treaty Stone with the somber bulk of St. Munchin's
Church across the road. The boardwalk.
She scurried over Thomond Bridge, her calves hot and sweaty
and her hair eventually escaping and swishing about her face in the
wind. Her mouth had gone dry. Why the hell had she not ended that
last lecture just five minutes early?
Rustling through sheaves of papers and the crumpled tinfoil of
hastily eaten sandwiches, Kate searched for the jagged clump of keys
at the bottom of the canvas bag. She managed to stumble through the
front door just as the church bells began to chime five. She'd made it!
"Fergus? ... Izzy? ... I'm home."
Kate clambered up the stairs to the kitchen, heart in her mouth.
There, curled up in a blue fleece blanket in a corner of the chaise
longue, staring intently at the clock on the wall, was Fergus. He
looked from her to the clock and back again. The TV flickered busily
at the other side ofthe room.
"See, I told you ," said Kate , out ofbreath. "I told you, five o'clock.
Home by five."
"I see that, Mum. It's five o'clock now. But you're very nearly late ..."
He turned back to the TV.
"Whew!" she mouthed to Izzy, who was leaning over the
breakfast counter in an apron.
Izzy knew only too well the consequences ofher mother arriving
after the agreed time. She too had witnessed thatthinly veiled anxiety,

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p1- 262 mdd

5

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

6

""""'

Siobhan MacDonald

seen it erupt and spew out great torrents of anger and confusion, blistering the remains of an evening. And yet this evening, Fergus's response didn't register the relief it normally did when Kate walked
through the door.
This evening there was something else. Something else was
eating him. Kate's fingers itched to ruffle his curls but Fergus hated
being touched on the head. Instead, she laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Good day?" she said to the back ofhis head.
Izzy looked up from her homework on the counter, looking grave.
No response from Fergus.
"Good day, Soldier?" she asked again.
"All right , I guess ..."
It was then that Kate noticed the familiar hairy creature hulking
its way across the screen, mammoth knuckles scraping the pavement,
the anguished roar of frustration as it beat its breast in pain.
"King Kong?" Kate looked at Izzy.

Izzy nodded.
So it had been a bad day. King Kong always made an appearance
after any unsettling incident or unhappy encounter. The great lumbering creature seemed to act as a salve. What did Fergus see in him?
Was it the primal anguish and confusion ofthe beast?
Kate filled with dismay. This was the second time this week already. In fact, King Kong had graced their TV screens more times this
term than all of the previous year. Shoulders slumped, she went to the
hallway and hung up her purple jacket and the satchel of project proposals that now seemed doomed to remain unseen for the evening.
Returning to the kitchen, she put her arms round Izzy, squeezing
tight. None of this was fair on Izzy. Kate had to constantly remind
herself and others that her daughter was only eleven. As the money
had slowly dried up, Izzy never questioned, never complained, accepting every new cutback and economy with stoicism. Music lessons
gone. Ballet classes gone. The only thing left was Girl Guides.
Izzy tried hard. "Don't worry about us, Mum, I'll mind Fergus
when you go back to work"; "''ll walk Fergus home from school";

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p1- 262 mdd

6

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

Twisted River

"""""'

7

"''ll help Fergus with his homework." Inasmuch as anyone could help
Fergus with his homework, Izzy tried. She tried her little heart out.
"Is Dad home for dinner? He promised to take me to Guides tonight." Izzy undid the apron and handed it to her mother.
"He'll be on his way," Kate responded with more conviction than
she felt. Mannix's behavior had been erratic in recent months, but he
had a lot on his mind with the new job, and anything was better than all
those months of unemployment.
Alone in the room with Fergus, Kate set to chopping peppers and
onions. Every now and then she looked over at the velvet chaise longue
that she had personally reupholstered. Fergus was cocooned and fetal
under his blanket.
"Today not so good then, Soldier?"
Fergus's face suddenly blotched up and he bit his lower lip. Kate
stopped chopping.
"There was writing," he said. "On the wall." Dislodging his
glasses, he screwed a fist into an eye socket.
Kate's heart sank. "What do you mean?"
"Writing on the wall in the school yard over by the wheelie bins.
They were all laughing. Everyone was laughing ..."
He rubbed the other eye now, desperately trying to keep in the
crying.
"I don't care," he said. He twisted the blanket.
"What did it say?"
How stupid ofher! How incredibly stupid! How could Fergus tell
her what it said? He could scarcely read. Even after five years oflearning
support , reading did not come any easier. They were going to have to
go private. She knew that. She'd known it for some time. But it was the
money. Always, the money. They'd do their own research, find their
own therapists.

"\Viw was it, Soldier?" she asked this time. "\Vho was it that wrote
on the wall?"
Fergus looked at her as if she already knew.
"Frankie?"

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p12· 62 mdd

7

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

=-

Siobhan MacDonald

Of course.
"It was Frankie, wasn't it?"
Silence.
A tough kid with a shock oflice-ridden carrot hair, Frankie Flynn
was a latchkey kid. In the beginning, Kate tried tolerance. Frankie
Flynn didn't have it easy. His mother discarded her fluffy dressing gown
only to go to her evening job in the off-license, and it was said she was
paid in kind.
'Tll sort this out, Soldier," said Kate calmly. Tll take time out
tomorrow and go to the school."
Fergus shot up.
"No!!!You are NOT to go to the school," he screeched. "If you go to
the school I will NEVER EVER talk to you again. EVER.And stop calling
me Soldier!" He ran from the room dragging his blanket behind him.
Kate was stunned. Onion fumes mixed with tears of hurt for her
child. She needed a moment to think. Going to the window, she edged
herself into the wicker seat suspended from the ceiling and looked out
at the river. An elderly couple huddled over the handrail in the riverside park. They were throwing scraps to the swans below. A young
mum pushed her toddler in a miniature car propelled by a long plastic
handle. A couple of joggers ran past in conversation and continued on
up the boardwalk. Some pleasure craft had moored on the far side of
the river, over the weir outside the seventies LEGO-like office block
that hung somber and gray over the water. The silhouette ofbuildings
on the far side of the river was a curious melange of old and new.
Striking and gauche. Elegant and unremarkable. A microcosm ofthe
city at large. It was a view Kate had grown to love as much as she loved
this house with its upside-down layout.
Their house had been the place to be at on New Year's when fireworks rained down against the castle walls and bled in multicolor on
the water below. Kate stared out now at the late evening sunshine, a
golden glint on the ripples over the falls. The tide was ebbing and
there would be fishermen out in the shallows later. Urban fishermen

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p12· 62 mdd

8

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

Twisted River

"""'

9

who pitched up with crocked bicycles and bits of old shopping bags.
She often wondered if they ever caught anything.
She closed her eyes, feeling the soothing warmth of the low sun
caress her eyelids. When she opened them again, the elderly couple
was shuffling off, possibly uneasy with the appearance of a thin man
pulling a mastiff terrier on a chain-the animal's chest broader and
more menacing than its owner's.
Click. The turn of a key in the door downstairs. Mannix. Kate felt
her chest grow tight. His steps were heavy on the stairs. One at a time
now, not like they used to be.
"You look chilled ..."
That smile-brilliant as always. That was what she had fallen
for-his smile. His shirt still looked fresh and crisp against his sallow
skin. In his hand he held his laptop.
She half-smiled, not wanting to start the evening on a sour note.
"The kids?" he asked, draping his raincoat overthe back of a breakfast
stool.
"In their rooms."
"Good. Good." He rubbed his chin pensively and took a few steps
toward her. He stopped then as if he'd thought of something.
"All right?" she asked.
He took a few more steps and then sat gingerly on the edge of the
chaise longue.
He cleared his throat. "Look, Kate, there's something I have to
tell you ..."
"There's something I have to tell you as well," she interrupted.
She would have to getthis out ofthe way.
"Okay, then ..." He hesitated. "You first."
She told him about Fergus. About the episode in the school yard-the
latest installment in a catalog of incidents that now seemed to be descending into a regular pattern of bullying.
"That little prick!"

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p12· 62 mdd

9

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

w

""""'

Siobhan MacDonald

Mannix shook his head, his face gripped by a spasm of anger.
"So, what's this? This is the third or fourth time since the new
school year. So our Fergus is that little shit's latest punch-bag?"
Kate's stomach knotted. It was true. It looked like Fergus was set
to be Frankie's target for the year. First , there was the disgusting incident with the sandwiches, then the sports bag soaked in urine, and
now this.
"Fergus doesn't want me to, but I'm going to the school. I've decided." Kate stood up wearily out of the chair and padded across the
polished floorboards.
Mannix shook his head. "And just what do you hope that will
achieve? Come on, Kate. You know what we're dealing with here. Look
what happened to that Polish kid's dad ..."
"What Polish kid?" asked Kate.
"You know, the scrawny fella. What's this the kids call him? Oh,
yeah-Polski Sklep."
"I know who you mean-what happened to his dad?" Kate remembered Polski Sklep being bullied and knew that his mother had
gone to the school to complain. But she wasn't aware of any repercussions beyond that.
"Oh, Kate!You don't think his father's two broken ribs happened
by accident?"
"What do you mean?" The knot in her stomach pulled tighter.
"Polski Sklep's father is ... was ... a bouncer at a nightclub in
town. He got beaten up in the lane outside. That was down to Flynn's
oldman."
"I thought Frankie Flynn's dad was in prison."
"And you think that stopped him?"
Kate sighed.
"How do you know all this, Mannix?" she asked, her plan of
action now looking futile.
"Spike."
Spike was Mannix's brother. The other half of the 0'Brien brothers.
As Kate tossed the vegetables onto the sizzling wok, her face set in a

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p12· 62 mdd

10

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

Twisted River

""""'

11

frown. Spike would know. He was in the nightclub business. Spike was
in any business that he thought would make him money.
"Hi there, honey." Mannix's face softened at his daughter, who'd
floated silently into the room. She was neatly dressed in her Girl
Guides uniform. "Oh, shit ..." he added.
"Aw, Dad, you haven't forgotten, have you? You said you'd take
me to the Guides tonight."
"No, no, of course, Izzy, that's fine. It's just that ... no, never mind.
Of course I'll take you."
Izzy looked at her mother.
"You told him, then? About Fergus?"
"Yes, I told him," said Kate, doling out four equally sized portions
into black patterned noodle bowls.
"What exactly did Frankie Flynn write on that wall?" Mannix
looked at Izzy.
Izzy hesitated a moment as if she didn't want to say.
"Well?" said Mannix.
Kate held her breath.
"Do you really want to know, Dad?"
"I really want to know," said Mannix.
"'Fergus O'Brien is a fucking spastic,' that's what it said."
Kate felt like she'd been slapped across the face. For a few moments none of them said anything. Mannix's eyes narrowed.
"Did it, now?" he said eventually.
Izzy looked from Kate to Mannix, slowly drinking in their reactions.
"I hate Frankie Flynn." Izzy's voice was ice-cold.
"Don't you worry about that little bollocks," said Mannix, circling his daughter's waist.
"Mannix!" Kate protested, but noticed the profanity had softened
Izzy's expression. She had the makings of a grin. Father and daughter
were alike in so many ways. Quick to anger, quick to judge, impetuous.
"What are you going to do?" Izzy wasn't letting it go.
Kate squirmed, her parental authority under siege from the piercing
stare ofheryoung daughter. The truth was she didn't quite know. Not yet.

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p12· 62 rndd

11

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

12

""""'

Siobhan MacDonald

"Let's have dinner, Izzy," she said breezily. "It's not your job to worry
about this. It's mine and Dad's. Go downstairs and get Fergus, will you?"
Izzy opened her mouth as if to speak but clammed it tightly shut
again.
"K," she muttered.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt
me," rhymed Kate, but her words rang hollow and trite. Izzy turned
her back, but not before Kate registered the look of disgust on her
daughter's face.
The meal was stilted and awkward, Mannix trying to cajole Fergus
without actually addressing the issue, Kate aching to smother her
fragile eight-year-old with love. She'd give him anything she could to
protect himself. Anything to boost his self-esteem. IfFergus could only
walk into that school with his head held high, maybe then he wouldn't
wear the mantle of a victim quite so readily. If she could just conjure
up something to make him more resilient, more robust. Maybe then
Frankie Flynn would move off to prey on someone else. It wasn't a
noble solution, she knew, but at the moment all she wanted was
Frankie Flynn to leave her son alone.
Even though she'd prepared the meal just the way he liked it, she
half expected Fergus would leave his meal untouched. Surprisingly,
in between monosyllables, he ate. He did his usual circle trick with the
vegetables. He picked a yellow pepper from the yellow pile, a carrot
from the orange pile, and then some onions. And back to the yellow
pile to start all over again. He was trying his bestto put on a brave face
in front of his father.
Izzy ate her meal in moody silence. As Kate cleared the dishes she
knew they were going to have to do something about Fergus, but for
the life of her she didn't know what. Something would come to her
over the course of the evening. She went out to the hall to retrieve her
satchel in the hope of going over some papers.
Mannix passed her in the hallway carrying a flowery pillowcase.
"Domestic skills at last?" Kate raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, this-it's for Izzy, something for Guides, I think." His lips

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p1·262 mdd

12

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

Twisted River

""""'

13

grazed her cheek as he breezed past, freshly showered and having
swapped his suit for jeans.
"I turned down that job today, by the way."
Given the amount of agonizing she had gone through, she was
surprised he hadn't asked her about it already.
"Job?" He looked at her blankly.
"The assistant head of department? The job that Simon offered me?"
"Oh, that ..."he said dismissively. "Sexy Simon will have to look
for his assistant elsewhere, I guess," he added sarcastically.
Kate felt hurt. It had been silly of her to expect any acknowledgment or recognition of what she had justturned down. Mannix had
somehow gotten it into his head that Simon's interest in her was more
than professional. But Kate couldn't help feeling let down nonetheless.
"Ready, Izzy?" Mannix shouted, going down the stairs.
At the bottom, he turned round. "Oh, Kate, by the way, I'm
calling over to Spike for a bit. We'll talk when I get back, okay?"
"Spike?"
"Kate, don't start. Give the guy a break."
Her expression must have said it all.
"I didn't say a thing," said Kate. "Pints in the Curragower Bar,
then?" She kept her tone even. It wasn't as if they could afford them.
"No, Kate. I'm going round to Spike's flat. See you later," he said,
sounding resigned. He ushered Izzy out the door and slammed it a little
too forcefully behind him. Kate sighed.She should have bitten hertongue.
Just before heading up to the study on the third floor, she looked
in on Fergus's bedroom and was alarmed not to see him there. Not on
the bed with his Nintendo. Not making models with his K'NEX. As
she stood in the twilight she heard a heavy panting sound coming
from the other side of the bed.
"Fergus?" she said tentatively, walking around the bed.
More huffing and puffing.
"What on earth are you doing?" Although it was perfectly obvious
what he was doing.
He stopped then and propped himself up on one arm.

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p1- 262 mdd

13

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

14

=-

Siobhan MacDonald

"Push-ups. Thirty tonight. And more tomorrow. I'm going to get
up to a hundred a night."
"Isn't that a bit much?" He'd never shown any particular interest in
gym work before.Still, she smiled, glad to encourage any new endeavor.
"It's not too much ..." he huffed. 'Tm going to be a beast!"
"A beast?" Kate laughed.
"Yeah. I'm going to become an absolute beast. And then I'm going
to kick the living crap out of Frankie Flynn."

The smile froze on Kate's lips.
"Oh, but Fergus, that's not ..."
He glanced up briefly, and then without answering he went back
to his push-ups. Kate shut the door softly. She definitely had to talk to
Mannix about this.
With a slew of papers spread out on the desk in the study, Kate tried to
concentrate. She stared at the letter she'd received last week from
Oberstown House, the young offenders' facility. They'd invited her to
make a presentation to their further education students. Again, she
was conflicted. The logistics were difficult. That was a trip the whole
way to North County Dublin, a longer day at each end, and more upheaval for Fergus. As much as she relished the idea ofbroadeningtheir
student base and making their courses more accessible, she knew
where her priorities lay.
Next, Kate attempted to jot down some advice on the portfolio
proposals her second-years had handed in. But the words swam
around in a slurry oflanguage. What advice could she offer her own
child? She looked around the book-lined room and at the woven tapestries hanging on either side ofthe long sash window. Darkness had
now fallen and the lights from City Hall shimmered on the river.
And then it came to her. She spent so much time worrying about
the future. Their future. Fergus's future. But the time was now. She
needed to do something now. Putting the sheaf of papers to one side,
she turned on the desktop and settled herself into the office chair. An
hour must have slid by easily before she found what she was looking for.

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p1- 262 mdd

14

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

Twisted River

=-

15

"Oooooowwww!!!" came an agonized howl from down the stairs.

Good Lord-what had Fergus done now? Tearing down the
stairs, she nearly went over on her ankle. There , in the gloom, was
Fergus, doubled over, holding on to a foot.
"What happened?" She rushed to comfort him.
"My toe is all messed up," he said, sobbing.
"How did that happen?" His big toenail had split and blood was
seeping out from underneath. On closer inspection, she saw that the
edge of the toolbox was poking out from the cupboard door underneath
the stairs. He had stubbed his big toe on the comer. She didn't doubtthe
pain and he was in full throttle now. The injury was the final straw in
his day of humiliation.
"Dad . .. I want Dad ... Get Dad!" he howled.

"Let's put a plaster on first. He'll be home soon, Soldier," she said,
trying to placate him.
No go.
"Get Dad now! I want my dad now!"
The bleating descended into a pitiful moaning. Her heart went
out to him. She wanted to scoop him up and squeeze him and cuddle
the pain out of him. But it was no good. He wanted Mannix.
"Okay, okay, okay ... hang on, I'll phone him."
The stark light of her mobile lit up in the gloom. "Calling Mannix
mobile." It went to voice mail. There was no point in leaving a message.

Fergus wanted him now. She knew what she should do. She didn't
want to, but she knew she had to. She'd have to call him. She'd have
to call Spike.
"Calling Spike mobile."

No answer. She'd try the apartment landline.
"Hi, Spike, it's Kate."
"Kate-my favorite sister-in-law!"
Kate squirmed. She was Spike's only sister-in-law.
"Can I have a quick word with Mannix?"
She heard his breathing and could almost see his languid movement
as she heard him drawing on a cigarette.

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p12· 62 mdd

15

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

16

""""'

Siobhan MacDonald

"Sorry, Katie. No can do. Haven't seen my bro for weeks."
"Oh, I see ... Oh, well, then ..."
"But ifhe pitches up, I'll get him to give you a bell, all right?"
Spike was enjoying this-the fact that Mannix had lied to her.
"No problem-I'm sure he'll be home soon."
'Tm sure he will, Katie."
She hated being called that. And he knew it.
"Thanks."
Now she wished she hadn't called.
"Where's my dad?" Fergus said, sniffing, still in a heap on the floor.
"I don't know," she said snappily, sympathy for her son now replaced by a gnawing sense of unease. "I don't know where your dad is."
It was only then that she remembered Mannix had wanted to tell
her something when he'd come home from work. As she coaxed a
bruised Fergus upstairs with hot chocolate, she tried to dampen the
worry that had lodged in her gut.
Where was Mannix? And why had he lied about going to Spike's?

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p12· 62 mdd

16

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

Mannix
CURRAGOWER FALLS
EARLY SEPTEMBER

T

hings had been getting a little uncomfortable for Mannix. He'd
always liked the view from the edge, it made him feel alive. But

there were lots ofballs in the air at the moment. Too many, in fact, and
some ofthem needed to be taken out of circulation. He'd tried to do
that tonight. It would take time before he knew if it had worked.
Sitting in the VW saloon, he felt as if he were skulking-like
some of the other characters who drew up in the lay-by. They looked
like they were waiting for something or someone. But Mannix's
business was done. He was taking a breather, trying to cool down
with the damp night air coming in off the river.
The passenger window had jammed halfway down. Like him,
the car was beginning to show signs of wear and tear. It was a relic
from his former job. They'd allowed him to keep it as part of his severance package, a little sweetener to make sure he'd go quietly in
the end.
He hadn't seen that one coming. No, sir, not at all. Normally, his
instincts were good, but he'd been caught off guard. It had been two
years ago now, but he still winced at the memory. All those years in
the same company, going in as a technician, Kate encouraging him to

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p12· 62 mdd

17

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

18

=-

Siobhan MacDonald

take night classes, and gradually rising up through the ranks. They'd
become used to the pay rises, the bonuses, the stock options, the dividends. It had become the natural order of things.
Mannix had never been more pumped up and manic than during
that time, investing and reinvesting. Like an addict, he'd enjoyed the
rush it gave him. He'd started taking bigger risks. He started in on
property. The apartments first and then the beach house. It seemed like
the only way was up. Then one day it was simply as if someone suddenly called time on the party. It was over. He watched the wealth he
had amassed fizzle away like air seeping out of a gaudy party balloon
until it collapsed, all shriveled and sunken. He hadn't seen that one
coming either. But he was not alone there. It was a global meltdown.
He looked at his reflection in the mirror without turning on the
cabin light. The light from the streetlamp by the boat club was enough.
In the amber half-light he looked clammy and shaken. His face was still
blotchy and he'd have to somehow change his shirt when he got home.
Examining the stains on the pale blue cotton, he became aware of a
movement in the shadows to his left. He pulled the beanie farther over
his head and slunk down in his seat, not wanting to be seen. But the
figure hovering by the railings was not interested in Mannix. It hovered
by the bouquet of flowers that was tied there and then crouched down
to read the messages pinned to the tom cellophane. A tribute to a soul

that the river had swallowed. After a few moments the figure got up
again and shuffled off into the night. "Christ," said Mannix to himself.
"No matter how bad things get I hope I never end up in the river."
A loud guffaw and the sound of chatter interspersed with the urgent
wail of an ambulance making its way over the Condell bridge. Two
figures were making their way out of the boat club and joking together.
Shit!
Mannix recognized them both. He thought the place would have
been locked up by now. Everyone gone home. He slunk even farther
down in his seat. He didn't need any questions about where he'd been
the last few weeks. How come he wasn't training? His scull was on a
rack inside. It hadn't been out on the water for months.

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p1·262 mdd

18

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

Twisted River

"""'

19

"All right there, sir?"
Mannix jumped. A garda car had pulled up alongside him, and a
female garda was now looking at him disapprovingly.
"Yes, Garda, of course." He pulled himself into an upright position and smiled broadly. "Is there a problem?"
She looked at him as if she were trying to make up her mind. "Some
ofthe residents ..." She gestured to apartments on the other side ofthe
road. "Some of them have rung in with complaints of soliciting ..."
He laughed then, loudly. "Me? Soliciting?"
Fuck sake! He'd been accused of a lot ofthings but this was definitely a new one.
She didn't respond but looked wordlessly at a couple of longlegged women leaning against the trunk of a huge sycamore tree a
few yards away.
"Garda, I assure you, I'm just enjoying the night air."
She looked at him dubiously, eyeballing him as her window wound
slowly upward. The squad car crawled off, doing a three-point turn
outside the boathouse, and crawled in his direction again. In the rearview
mirror, he could see that it had pulled in to where the two women were
now smoking. It was laughable. That was all he needed-a charge for
soliciting.
Mannix turned the key in the ignition and the shiny green numerals on the dash read 9:55. He flexed his arms on the steering wheel.
He could turn around and drive back up the strand, over the bridge, and
home. He'd try again to tell her. He'd tried earlier but she'd deflected
him. Maybe it was fate. He wasn't meant to tell her. But he knew that
wasn't true. He was definitely going to tell her . ..
Or he could go to the Curragower Bar for just the one.
That's where she thought he was going to end up anyway. He
wouldn't get any brownie points for coming home early, not with the
mood that she'd been in these last few weeks. Preoccupied with Fergus
and their finances. Still, he'd take her preoccupation over the explosive
spats that had erupted out of nowhere when he'd been unemployed.
He was procrastinating. He knew that. He should go home but

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p1- 262 mdd

19

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

20

=-

Siobhan MacDonald

the anonymous conviviality of the Curragower Bar was very appealing. It had been a long day. He succumbed to the lure of the bar.
"Mannix." His neighbor turned around and saluted him as he
walked into the bar.
He wasn't going to get the anonymity that he had hoped for.
"Roger." Mannix jerked his chin, returning the salute.
Mannix scraped a stool alongside him. In the tiny bar there was
nowhere to hide and there was no point in offending the man. There
were only two other couples in the front bar and they were deep in
conversation.
"Pint?" asked Roger.
"You're grand. I'll get my own," Mannix replied, signaling the
barman, pointing at Roger's pint, and holding up one finger.
After a while, he smelled a faint tang of salt and sweat and felt
embarrassed as it dawned on him that the waterproof running jacket
he'd found in his kit bag in the back of the car probably hadn't been
washed since the last time he was out with the club. He'd needed
something to cover up the stains. Had that female garda noticed?
Probably not in the dark ofthe car.
"I hear you're back in the saddle," said Roger by way of a conversation opener. It was the last thing Mannix wanted to talk about.
"Yeah, coming up for six months now." Mannix sipped from the
creamy head.
"Tough going?" Roger addressed his query to Mannix's reflection
in the mirror behind the counter.
Roger considered work of any description tough going. He'd been
on the dole for years, and he wasn't called Roger the Dodger for
nothing. In fact, he wasn't even called Roger. It was something more
like Sean or Harry.
"Under the capitalist's yoke," said Roger, sighing, when he didn't
get an answer.
"Well, it sure beats hanging around like a tool all day!" said
Mannix, who was beginning to regret coming in now. Roger irritated
him, coming over all superior as ifhe were somehow against work on

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p1- 262 mdd

20

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

Twisted River

"""""'

21

the grounds of some high-minded ideology or principle. Roger was a
lazy arse and that was the holy all of it.
"Ah, I dunno," drawled Roger. "Where else would you want to be
on a sunny day apart from sitting on the deck out front here, looking
at those mad young fellas trying to canoe up the falls?"
He turned then and looked directly at Mannix, his hooded eyes
slowly blinking, lizardlike. It was then that Mannix noticed the curl
of the lip and realized that he was being taunted.
"Feck off, Roger." Mannix smiled, thinking that he should really
relax a bit. Not let things get to him so much.
"Well, I'm not exactly living the dream, I'll give you that," said
Mannix, opening up. "My new boss is twelve years younger than me,
what do you make of that?"
What did he expect Roger to say? How could he really expect
Roger to commiserate? To empathize? What would Roger know of
Mannix's belittling daily grind? Of how it felt to bite his tongue and
rein in the caustic comments that bubbled to the surface in the face of
constant corporate drivel. It was a job. That was all. He should be
grateful. And Mannix knew he just had to grin and suck it up.
"That's what happens, you see, Roger ..." The dark sticky liquid
was beginning to hit the spot. "When you're back into the workplace
after a break ... you have to start at the bottom all over again."
"I suppose ..." replied Roger, talking again to the mirror.
"You know whatthis kid asked me the other day-my boss, bearing
in mind that this kid is barely out of braces ... asks me where I see
myself in five years' time. Asks me what my short-to mid-term goals are,
what my long-term career plan is. And all the while I'm sitting there like
a spanner, staring at the downy fluff of the baldy beard he's trying to
grow."
"Oh, sure, I know where you're coming from ..." said Roger, with
conviction.
Like fuck , Roger knew. He couldn't possibly know the daily humiliation Mannix faced.
The couple in the corner looked over in Mannix's direction. He

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p12· 62 mdd

21

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

22

=-

Siobhan MacDonald

was talking too loudly. Far too excitedly. The other couple must have made a silent exit,
slipping out unseen into the night.
"Ever think of joining that brother of yours?" Roger was swilling
the dregs of his pint around in a circle. "Spike?"
"Yeah, Spike ..."
"Oh, I thought about that one many a time ..." Mannix grinned ruefully. When he lost
his job it seemed like a no-brainer. The most obvious thing in the world to do. But he hadn't
made much progress with the idea. A brick wall would not be putting too fine a point on it.
"Was chatting to Spike in here last week," said Roger, gulping the last foamy dregs and
slapping the glass back down noisily on the counter.
"Spike likes the pint in here, same as me," said Mannix, also finishing his drink.
"Yeah, haven't seen him at all this week." Roger paused. "A couple of guys came in here
looking for him last night ... the Bolgers, I think." Roger addressed the mirror again, casual as
you like.
"Is that right?" said Mannix, slipping off the stool and putting his
beanie cap back on. Suddenly he felt uncomfortable again. Time to go. "You off, then?"
Roger seemed disappointed to be curtailed in his line of questioning. "You won't have another?"
"Can't afford it, mate," said Mannix, heading for the door. As it was, he shouldn't even
have had any. But after the night he'd had…

I

9780143 108436_T wrstedRiver_TX _p12· 62 mdd

21

7130/15 5 59 PM

I

`

PROLOGUE

It was my eleventh birthday. I’d gotten a new bike from my father: white and pink, with tassels
on the handles. I really wanted to ride it, but my parents didn’t want me to leave while my friends
were there. They weren’t really my friends though. I was never really good at making friends. I
liked reading; I liked walking in the woods; I liked being alone. And I always felt a little out of
place with other kids my age. So when birthdays came by, my parents usually invited the
neighbors’ kids over. There were a lot of them, some whose names I barely knew. They were all
very nice, and they all brought gifts. So I stayed. I blew out the candles. I opened the presents. I
smiled a lot. I can’t remember most of the gifts because all I could think about was getting out
and trying that bicycle. It was about dinnertime by the time everyone left and I couldn’t wait
another minute. It would soon be dark; once it was, my father wouldn’t let me leave the house
until morning.
I snuck out the back door and pedaled as fast as I could into the woods at the end of the street.
It must have been ten minutes before I started slowing down. Perhaps it was getting a little too
dark for comfort and I was thinking about going back. Maybe I was just tired. I stopped for a
minute, listening to the wind throwing the branches around. Fall had arrived. The forest had
turned into a motley landscape and given new depth to the hillsides. The air suddenly got cold
and wet, as if it were about to rain. The sun was going down and the sky behind the trees was as
pink as those tassels.
I heard a crack behind me. It could have been a hare. Something drew my eye to the bottom of
the hill. I left my bicycle on the trail and started slowly making my way down, moving branches
out of my way. It was hard to see, as the leaves hadn’t fallen yet, but there was this eerie
turquoise glow seeping through the branches. I couldn’t pinpoint where it came from. It wasn’t
the river; I could hear that in the distance, and the light was much closer. It seemed to be coming
from everything.
I got to the bottom of the hill. Then the ground disappeared from under my feet.
I don’t remember much after that. I was out for several hours and the sun was coming up when
I came to. My father was standing about fifty feet above me. His lips were moving, but I couldn’t
hear a sound.
The hole I was in was perfectly square, about the size of our house. The walls were dark and
straight with bright, beautiful turquoise light shining out of intricate carvings. There was light

coming out of just about everything around me. I moved my hands around a bit. I was lying on a
bed of dirt, rocks, and broken branches. Underneath the debris, the surface was slightly curved,
smooth to the touch, and cold, like some type of metal.
I hadn’t noticed them before, but there were firemen above, yellow jackets buzzing around the
hole. A rope fell a few feet from my head. Soon, I was strapped onto a stretcher and hoisted into
daylight.
My father didn’t want to talk about it afterward. When I asked what I had fallen into, he just
found new clever ways of explaining what a hole was. It was about a week later that someone
rang the doorbell. I called for my father to go, but I got no answer. I ran down the stairs and
opened the door. It was one of the firemen that had gotten me out of the hole. He’d taken some
pictures and thought I’d like to see them. He was right. There I was, this tiny little thing at the
bottom of the hole, lying on my back in the palm of a giant metal hand.

PART ONE

BODY PARTS

FILE NO. 003
INTERVIEW WITH DR. ROSE FRANKLIN, PH.D.,
SENIOR SCIENTIST, ENRICO FERMI INSTITUTE
Location: University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

—-How big was the hand?

—-6.9 meters, about twenty--three feet; though it seemed much larger for an eleven--year--old.
—-What did you do after the incident?

—-Nothing. We didn’t talk about it much after that. I went to school every day like any kid my
age. No one in my family had ever been to college, so they insisted I keep going to school. I
majored in physics.
I know what you’re going to say. I wish I could tell you I went into science because of the
hand, but I was always good at it. My parents figured out I had a knack for it early on. I must
have been four years old when I got my first science kit for Christmas. One of those electronics
kits. You could make a telegraph, or things like that, by squeezing wires into little metal springs. I
don’t think I would have done anything different had I listened to my father and stayed home that
day.
Anyway, I graduated from college and I kept doing the only thing I knew how to do. I went to
school. You should have seen my dad when we learned I was accepted at the University of
Chicago. I’ve never seen anyone so proud in my life. He wouldn’t have been any happier had he
won a million dollars. They hired me at the U of C after I finished my Ph.D.
—-When did you find the hand again?

—-I didn’t. I wasn’t looking for it. It took seventeen years, but I guess you could say it found me.
—-What happened?

—-To the hand? The military took over the site when it was discovered.
—-When was that?

—-When I fell in. It took about eight hours before the military stepped in. Colonel Hudson—-I
think that was his name—-was put in charge of the project. He was from the area so he knew
pretty much everyone. I don’t remember ever meeting him, but those who did had only good
things to say about the man.
I read what little was left of his notes—-most of it was redacted by the military. In the three

years he spent in charge, his main focus had always been figuring out what those carvings meant.
The hand itself, which is mostly referred to as “the artifact,” is mentioned in passing only a few
times, evidence that whoever built that room must have had a complex enough religious system. I
think he had a fairly precise notion of what he wanted this to be.
—-What do you think that was?

—-I have no idea. Hudson was career military. He wasn’t a physicist. He wasn’t an archaeologist.
He had never studied anything resembling anthropology, linguistics, anything that would be
remotely useful in this situation. Whatever preconceived notion he had, it must have come from
popular culture, watching Indiana Jones or something. Fortunately for him, he had competent
people surrounding him. Still, it must have been awkward, being in charge and having no idea
what’s going on most of the time.
What’s fascinating is how much effort they put into disproving their own findings. Their first
analysis indicated the room was built about three thousand years ago. That made little sense to
them, so they tried carbon--dating organic material found on the hand. The tests showed it to be
much older, somewhere between five thousand and six thousand years old.
—-That was unexpected?

—-You could say that. You have to understand that this flies in the face of everything we know
about American civilizations. The oldest civilization we’re aware of was located in the Norte
Chico region of Peru, and the hand appeared to be about a thousand years older. Even if it
weren’t, it’s fairly obvious that no one carried a giant hand from South America all the way to
South Dakota, and there were no civilizations as advanced in North America until much, much
later.
In the end, Hudson’s team blamed the carbon dating on contamination from surrounding
material. After a few years of sporadic research, the site was determined to be twelve hundred
years old and classified as a worship temple for some offshoot of Mississippian civilization.
I went through the files a dozen times. There is absolutely nothing, no evidence whatsoever to
support that theory, other than the fact that it makes more sense than anything the data would
suggest. If I had to guess, I would say that Hudson saw no military interest whatsoever in all this.
He probably resented seeing his career slowly wither in an underground research lab and was
eager to come up with anything, however preposterous, just to get out of there.
—-Did he?

—-Get out? Yes. It took a little more than three years, but he finally got his wish. He had a stroke
while walking his dog and slipped into a coma. He died a few weeks later.
—-What happened to the project after he died?

—-Nothing. Nothing happened. The hand and panels collected dust in a warehouse for fourteen

years until the project was demilitarized. Then the University of Chicago took over the research
with NSA funding and somehow I was put in charge of studying the hand I fell in when I was a
child. I don’t really believe in fate, but somehow “small world” doesn’t begin to do this justice.
—-Why would the NSA get involved in an archaeological project?

—-I asked myself the same question. They fund all kinds of research, but this seems to fall
outside their usual fields of interest. Maybe they were interested in the language for cryptology;
maybe they had an interest in the material the hand is made of. In any case, they gave us a pretty
big budget so I didn’t ask too many questions. I was given a small team to handle the hard science
before we handed everything over to the anthropology department. The project was still classified
as top secret and, just like my predecessor, I was moved into an underground lab. I believe you’ve
read my report, so you know the rest.
—-Yes, I have read it. You sent your report after only four months. Some might think it was
a little hasty.

—-It was a preliminary report, but yes. I don’t think it was premature. OK, maybe a little, but I
had made significant discoveries and I didn’t think I could go much further with the data that I
had, so why wait? There is enough in that underground room to keep us guessing for several
lifetimes. I just don’t think we have the knowledge to get much more out of this without getting
more data.
—-Who is we?

—-Us. Me. You. Mankind. Whatever. There are things in that lab that are just beyond our reach
right now.
—-Ok, so tell me about what you do understand. Tell me about the panels.

—-It’s all in my report. There are sixteen of them, approximately ten feet by thirty--two feet each,
less than an inch thick. All sixteen panels were made around the same period, approximately
three thousand years ago. We . . .
—-If I may. I take it you do not subscribe to the cross--contamination theory?

—-As far as I’m concerned, there’s no real reason not to trust the carbon dating. And to be
honest, how old these things are is the least of our problems. Did I mention the symbols have
been glowing for the last seventeen years, with no apparent power source?
Each wall is made of four panels and has a dozen rows of eighteen to twenty symbols carved
into it. Rows are divided into sequences of six or seven symbols. We counted fifteen distinct
symbols in total. Most are used several times, some appear only once. Seven of them are curvy,
with a dot in the center, seven are made of straight lines, and one is just a dot. They are simple
in design but very elegant.

—-Had the previous team been able to interpret any of the markings?

—-Actually, one of the few sections of Hudson’s report left intact by the military was the
linguistic analysis. They had compared the symbols to every known writing system, past or
present, but found no interesting correlation. They assumed each sequence of symbols
represented a proposition, like an English sentence, but with no frame of reference, they couldn’t
even speculate as to their interpretation. Their work was thorough enough and documented at
every step. I saw no reason to do the same thing twice and I declined the offer to add a linguist to
the team. With nothing to compare this to, there was logically no way to arrive at any sort of
meaning.
Perhaps I was biased—-because I stumbled onto it—-but I felt drawn to the hand. I couldn’t
explain it, but every fiber of my being was telling me the hand was the important piece.
—-Quite a contrast from your predecessor. So what can you tell me about it?

—-Well, it’s absolutely stunning, but I assume you’re not that interested in aesthetics. It measures
22.6 feet in length from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger. It seems to be solid, made of the
same metallic material as the wall panels, but it’s at least two thousand years older. It is dark
gray, with some bronze overtones, and it has subtle iridescent properties.
The hand is open, fingers close together, slightly bent, as if holding something very precious,
or a handful of sand, trying not to spill it. There are grooves where human skin would normally
fold, others that seem purely decorative. All are glowing the same bright turquoise, which brings
out the iridescence in the metal. The hand looks strong, but . . . sophisticated is the only word that
comes to mind. I think it’s a woman’s hand.
—-I am more interested in facts at this point. What is this strong but sophisticated hand
made of?

—-It proved nearly impossible to cut or otherwise alter by conventional means. It took several
attempts to remove even a small sample from one of the wall panels. Mass spectrography showed
it to be an alloy of several heavy metals, mostly iridium, with about 10 percent iron and smaller
concentrations of osmium, ruthenium, and other metals of the platinum group.
—-It must be worth its weight in gold?

—-It’s funny you should mention that. It doesn’t weigh as much as it should so I’d say it’s worth
a lot more than its weight, in anything.
—-How much does it weigh?

—-Thirty--two metric tons . . . I know, it’s a respectable weight, but it’s inexplicably light given
its composition. Iridium is one of the densest elements, arguably the densest, and even with some
iron content, the hand should easily weigh ten times as much.

—-How did you account for that?

—-I didn’t. I still can’t. I couldn’t even speculate as to what type of process could be used to
achieve this. In truth, the weight didn’t bother me nearly as much as the sheer amount of iridium I
was looking at. Iridium is not only one of the densest things you can find, it’s also one of the
rarest.
You see, metals of this group—-platinum is one of them—-love to bond with iron. That’s
what most of the iridium on Earth did millions of years ago when the surface was still molten
and, because it’s so heavy, it sunk to the core, thousands of miles deep. What little is left in the
Earth’s crust is usually mixed with other metals and it takes a complex chemical process to
separate them.
—-How rare is it in comparison to other metals?

—-It’s rare, very rare. Let’s put it this way, if you were to put together all the pure iridium
produced on the entire planet in a year, you’d probably end up with no more than a couple metric
tons. That’s about a large suitcaseful. It would take decades, using today’s technology, to
scrounge up enough to build all this. It’s just too scarce on Earth and there simply aren’t enough
chondrites lying around.
—-You lost me.

—-Sorry. Meteorites; stony ones. Iridium is so rare in Earth rocks that it is often undetectable.
Most of the iridium we mine is extracted from fallen meteorites that didn’t completely burn up in
the atmosphere. To build this room—-and it seems safe to assume that this is not the only thing
they would have built—-you’d need to find it where there are a lot more than on the Earth’s
surface.
—-Journey to the center of the Earth?

—-Jules Verne is one way to go. To get this type of metal in massive quantities, you’d either have
to extract it thousands of miles deep or be able to mine in space. With all due respect to Mr.
Verne, we haven’t come close to mining deep enough. The deepest mines we have would look
like potholes next to what you’d need. Space seems much more feasible. There are private
companies right now hoping to harvest water and precious minerals in space in the very near
future, but all these projects are still in the early planning stages. Nonetheless, if you could
harvest meteorites in space, you could get a lot more iridium, a whole lot more.
—-What else can you tell me?

—-That pretty much sums it up. After a few months of looking at this with every piece of
equipment known to man, I felt we were getting nowhere. I knew we were asking the wrong
questions, but I didn’t know the right ones. I submitted a preliminary report and asked for a leave

of absence.
—-Refresh my memory. What was the conclusion of that report?

—-We didn’t build this.
—-Interesting. What was their reaction?

—-Request granted.
—-That was it?

—-Yes. I think they were hoping I wouldn’t come back. I never used the word “alien,” but that’s
probably all they took out of my report.
—-That is not what you meant?

—-Not exactly. There might be a much more down--to--earth explanation, one I just didn’t think
of. As a scientist, all I can say is that humans of today do not have the resources, the knowledge,
or the technology to build something like this. It’s entirely possible that some ancient
civilization’s understanding of metallurgy was better than ours, but there wouldn’t have been any
more iridium around, whether it was five thousand, ten thousand, or twenty thousand years ago.
So, to answer your question, no, I don’t believe humans built these things. You can draw
whatever conclusion you want from that.
I’m not stupid; I knew I was probably putting an end to my career. I certainly annihilated any
credibility I had with the NSA, but what was I going to do? Lie?
—-What did you do after you submitted your report?

—-I went home, to where it all began. I hadn’t gone home in nearly four years, not since my
father died.
—-Where is home?

—-I come from a small place called Deadwood, about an hour northwest of Rapid City.
—-I am not familiar with that part of the Midwest.

—-It’s a small town built during the gold rush. It was a rowdy place, like in the movies. The last
brothels were closed when I was a kid. Our claim to fame, besides a short--lived TV show on
HBO, is that the murder of Wild Bill Hickok happened in Deadwood. The town survived the end
of the gold rush and a few major fires, but the population dwindled to about twelve hundred.
Deadwood sure isn’t thriving, but it’s still standing. And the landscape is breathtaking. It’s
sitting right on the edge of the Black Hills National Forest, with its eerie rock formations,
beautiful pine forests, barren rock, canyons, and creeks. I can’t think of a more beautiful place on
Earth. I can understand why someone would want to build something there.

—-You still call it home?

—-Yes. It’s part of who I am although my mother would probably disagree. She appeared
hesitant when she answered the door. We barely spoke anymore. I could sense that she resented
the fact that I never came back, not even for Dad’s funeral, that I left her all alone to cope with
the loss. We all have our way of dealing with pain, and I suppose that deep down my mother
understood that this was just my way, but there was anger in her voice, things she would never
dare to speak out loud but that would taint our relationship forever. I was OK with that. She had
suffered enough; she was entitled to resentment. We didn’t talk much the first few days, but we
quickly settled into some form of routine.
Sleeping in my old room brought back memories. When I was a child, I often snuck out of bed
at night and sat by the window to watch my dad leave for the mine. He would come to my room
before every night shift and have me pick a toy to put in his lunch box. He said he would think of
me when he opened it and come spend his lunch break with me in my dreams. He didn’t talk
much, to me or to my mother, but he knew how important little things can be for a child and he
took the time to tuck me in before every shift. How I wished my dad were there so I could talk to
him. He wasn’t a scientist, but he had a clear view of things. I couldn’t talk to my mother about
this.
We’d been having short but pleasant discussions for a few days, which was a welcome change
from the polite comments about food we’d been exchanging since I arrived. But what I did was
classified and I did my best to steer our conversations away from what was on my mind. It got
easier with every week that went by, as I found myself spending more time reminiscing about
childhood mistakes than I did thinking about the hand.
It took nearly a month before I hiked to the site where I’d first seen it. The hole had long since
been filled. There were small trees starting to grow back through the dirt and rocks. There was
nothing left to see. I walked aimlessly until nightfall. Why did I find the hand first? Surely there
must be other structures like the one I fell in. Why did no one find them? Why did it happen on
that day? The hand had been dormant for millennia. Why did it happen then? What triggered it?
What was present twenty years ago that hadn’t been for thousands of years?
Then it hit me. That was the right question to ask. I had to figure out what turned it on.

FILE NO. 004
INTERVIEW WITH CW3 KARA RESNIK,
UNITED STATES ARMY
Location: Coleman Army Airfield, Mannheim, Germany

—-Please state your name and rank.

—-You already know my name. You’re staring at my file.
—-I was told you would cooperate with this process. I would like you to state your name
for the record.

—-Maybe you could start by telling me what this “process” is about.
—-I cannot do that. Now, state your name and rank for the record.

—-“I cannot do that . . .” Do you overarticulate everything all the time?
—-I like to enunciate things. I find it allows me to avoid misunderstandings. If there is one
thing I loathe, it is to repeat myself . . .

—-Yes. My name. You can say it, if it’s so important to you.
—-As you wish. You are Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kara Resnik, and you are a helicopter pilot
in the United States Army. Is that correct?

—-Was. I’ve been removed from flight status, but you probably know that already.
—-I did not. May I ask what happened?

—-I have a detached retina. It doesn’t hurt, but my vision is affected. I’m scheduled for surgery
tomorrow. When I asked, they said there’s a reasonable chance I might be able to fly again . . .
which sounds suspiciously like “no” to me.
What did you say your name was again?
—-I have not.

—-Then why don’t you? For the record . . .
—-There are many reasons why, some more relevant than others. From your perspective,
it should suffice to know that you would never be allowed to leave this room alive if I did.

—-You could have just said no. Do you really think threatening me will get you anywhere?
—-I sincerely apologize if you felt threatened in any way, Chief Resnik. It was never my
intention to make you uncomfortable. I simply did not want you to think I was being coy.

—-So you were concerned for my safety? How chivalrous. Why am I here?
—-You are here to talk about what happened in Turkey.

—-Nothing happened in Turkey. Nothing interesting, anyway.
—-I will be the judge of that. You know that my clearance is several levels above yours, so
start at the beginning.

—-I’m not even sure what that means.
—-How did you end up in Turkey?

—-I was called on NATO duty. I arrived early in the morning and got some sleep. Mission
briefing was at 16:00. They introduced me to my second, CW Mitchell, and we went over the
mission. We would fly out at 02:00 on a modified stealth UH--60 out of Adana. We were to enter
Syrian airspace at very low altitude and collect air samples about twelve miles south of the
border, near Ar Raqqah.
—-You said you had never met your second--in--command. It is my understanding that the
Army likes to keep its crews together. It seems odd for them to break up a team just before
a dangerous mission and have you fly with someone you barely know. Why not have your
usual co--pilot come with you?

—-He was reassigned.
—-Why is that?

—-You’d have to ask him.
—-I did. Would it surprise you to know he asked for any post as long as it was with
another pilot? I believe the words he used to describe you were: obdurate, volatile, and
irascible. He has quite the vocabulary.

—-He plays a lot of Scrabble.
—-Is that why you did not get along?

—-I never had a problem with him.
—-That seems somewhat beside the point. You do not often see people willing to
jeopardize their military career simply to avoid having to spend time with another person.

—-We disagreed over a lot of things, but I never let it get in the way of our flying. I can’t help it
if he wasn’t able to do the same.
—-So it is not your fault if people have a problem with you. That is just who you are.

—-Something like that. Look, you want me to say I’m not the easiest person to get along with?
I’ll give you that. But somehow, I don’t think we’re here to discuss my charming personality.
You want to know how I crashed a twenty--million--dollar helicopter into the middle of a
pistachio farm. Is that it?
—-We can start with that. You said you were supposed to collect air samples. Do you
know why?

—-NATO believes that Syria has been pursuing a nuclear weapons program for years and they
want to put a stop to it. Israel bombed a suspected nuclear reactor back in 2007, but NATO
doesn’t want to do anything that drastic on a whim.
—-They would prefer to have some hard evidence before they take military action.

—-They wanna catch them with their pants down. A source in the Syrian Military Intelligence
told the US that underground testing was going on near Ar Raqqah, and since Syria is refusing to
allow inspectors to visit suspected nuclear sites, we were to use a more covert approach.
—-Did this surreptitious inspection involve anything other than collecting air samples?

—-No. We were to fly in and out. They brought in some pretty big equipment with us to detect
signs of nuclear activity from the air samples we’d bring back. We left Incirlik Air Base at 02:00
as planned. We went east along the border for about an hour and turned south into Syria. We flew
nap--of--the--earth for about twelve minutes with an AGL of eighty feet. We reached the
designated coordinates around 03:15, collected air samples, and headed back the way we came.
—-Were you nervous?

—-You’re funny. I get nervous if I forget to pay my phone bill. This is a little different. You’re
ground--hugging at 160 miles an hour over possibly hostile territory, at night, with night--vision
goggles. If that doesn’t get your heart pumping, I don’t know what will. So yeah, we were both
on edge. You can’t see anywhere but straight ahead with the NVGs on. It feels like flying through
a narrow green--lit tunnel at an incredible speed.
—-Did everything go as planned?

—-Like clockwork. We were back in Turkish airspace in less than twenty--five minutes. I
climbed up to eight hundred feet while we put some distance between us and the border. We
were approaching Harran when we noticed some light directly below us. It wasn’t city lights.
We were over farmland, and the color wasn’t right. Then out of nowhere, the engine stopped,

and the entire cockpit went dark.
We could hear the rotors slowing down, then nothing. There was this turquoise glow
emanating from the fields below. Countless small bush--like trees planted thirty feet apart with
nothing but dirt in between. We just sat there, staring. It was surreal, very . . . peaceful. Then we
dropped like a rock.
The air bag slammed into my visor and knocked me out when we hit the ground. I woke up a
few minutes later. I was alone in the helicopter. An old man in a white cotton tunic was trying to
undo my restraints. He must have been at least sixty. He had dark, leathery skin. He looked at me
and mumbled something he must have known I couldn’t understand. Then he just smiled. Some
of his lower teeth were missing, but he had very kind eyes. I regained my composure and helped
him unstrap me from the seat.
He helped me out slowly, putting my arm over his shoulder. Someone grabbed my other arm,
a young girl, maybe sixteen years old. She was very pretty. She kept looking down, spoke only a
little bit when the man addressed her. He could have been her father, maybe her grandfather.
They sat me down about a hundred feet from the helicopter and the man gave me some water out
of a canteen. The young girl showed me a piece of cloth and gestured toward my forehead. As I
didn’t object, she put the wet cloth over my right eye. She removed it and quickly put it away,
probably hoping I wouldn’t notice the blood.
—-Where was your co--pilot?

—-I didn’t know at first. It took a minute or two before I noticed several people gathered a few
steps behind the helicopter. I couldn’t make out any of their faces, only their shadows against the
turquoise light. I got up. The young woman kept repeating the same few words—-“don’t get up,”
I suppose. I started walking toward the light. I made it to the edge of this huge crater that defaced
the pistachio field. The light was so bright.
Mitchell was there with some locals. He grabbed my arm and put it around his shoulder, then
held me to his side. He seemed genuinely happy to see me. I’m not quite sure what we were
staring at, but it was the most awe--inspiring thing I’ve ever seen.
It looked like a whale made of dark metal—-maybe a ship, or a submarine, though it seemed a
little small. It was sleek and curvy, like the body of a 747, but with no apparent opening, no
propeller. It looked more like an Italian work of art than it did anything practical. Turquoise veins
were running through the surface at regular intervals forming a weblike pattern.
—-How long were you there?

—-I don’t know. Maybe ten minutes. We were distracted by the sound of other helos and the
wind blowing sand in our faces. Four Blackhawks landed around the crater, letting out more
Marines than I could count. They brought Mitchell and me to one of the helicopters and we took
off immediately. The Marines on the ground were moving people away from the crater. I saw two

of them attempting to stop the local police from approaching the site.
—-Yes, it was . . . unfortunate . . . that the local authorities got involved. It would have been
a lot easier had they arrived a few minutes later. Please go on.

—-That’s it. There’s nothing more to tell. I was taken to the infirmary at the base in Turkey. Then
they flew me here for eye surgery an hour ago. How did you even know I was here?
—-Does it really matter?

—-I’ll take that to mean you won’t tell me. Can you at least tell me what that thing was?
—-The State Department is now asking the Turkish government permission to repatriate
wreckage of a secret WWII airplane found by local farmers in the Urfa Province.

—-You’ve got to be kidding. Some old plane wreck didn’t bring down my helo. You really
expect me to believe that?
—-What you believe is not particularly important at this juncture. What is important is what
the Turkish government believes. What they need to believe is that we are taking a
seventy--year--old US plane wreck back to America.

—-So what was it?
—-What do you think of Chief Mitchell?

—-You’re not going to answer my question?
—- . . .

—-Mitchell’s fine. He handled himself well.
—-That is not what I meant. What do you think of him personally?

—-Look, I nearly died because there’s a big shiny thing out there capable of bringing down a
fully armed Blackhawk helicopter from a distance in a matter of seconds. You really wanna know
what I think of my second on a personal level?
—-I do. I am well aware that your helicopter crashed. I would have to be blind not to see
that you find it insufferable not to know why. If time were not an issue, we could talk about
it for a few hours to validate your feelings, but I have to leave soon.
You may see what I ask as insignificant. What you must understand is that I have
access to a tremendous amount of information you are not privy to. Consequently, there is
very little you can tell me that I do not already know. What I do not know, and what I wish
to hear from you, is what you think of Mr. Mitchell.

—-What do you want me to say? I was with him for an hour and a half. We’re both from Detroit.

He’s two years older than me, but we went to some of the same schools. He thought that was
quite a coincidence we ended up on the same bird. He likes country music, which I can’t stand,
and neither of us thinks the Lions will make the playoffs. Is that personal enough for you?
—-What is his first name?

—-I have no idea. Ryan, I think. Are you going to tell me what that thing was? Can you tell me if
there are more of these things lying around?
—-Thank you very much for your time, Ms. Resnik . . .
I almost forgot. If it means anything to you, your former co--pilot also said you were the
best pilot he had ever seen.

`

Chapter 1

Arrivals
Randeep Sanghera stood in front of the green-and-blue map tacked to
the wall. The map had come with the flat, and though it was big and
wrinkled, and cigarette butts had once stubbed black islands into the
mid-Atlantic, he’d kept it, a reminder of the world outside. He was
less sure about the flowers, guilty-looking things he’d spent too long
choosing at the petrol station. Get rid of them, he decided, but then
heard someone was parking up outside and the thought flew out of
his head.
He went down the narrow staircase, step by nervous step, straightening his cuffs, swallowing hard. He could see a shape through the
mottled glass. When he opened the door Narinder Kaur stood before
him, brightly etched against the night, coat unbuttoned despite the
cold. So, even in England she wore a kesri. A domed deep-green one
that matched her salwaar kameez. A flank of hair had come loose
from under it and curled about her ear. He’d forgotten how large,
how clever, her eyes were. Behind her, the taxi made a U-turn and
retreated down the hill. Narinder brought her hands together underneath her chin—“Sat sri akal”—and Randeep nodded and took her
suitcase and asked if she might follow him up the stairs.
He set her luggage in the middle of the room and, straightening
right back up, knocked his head against the bald light bulb, the wire

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 3

8/4/15 8:41 AM

4  ·  The Year of the Runaways

flexing like a snake disturbed from its tree. She was standing at the
window clutching her handbag with both hands.
“It’s very quiet,” Randeep said.
“It’s very nice. Thank you.”
“You have been to Sheffield before?”
“My first time. What’s the area called again?”
“Brightside,” he said.
She smiled, a little, and gazed around the room. She gestured
towards the cooker.
“We used to have one like that.Years ago.”
Randeep looked too: a white stand-alone thing with an overhanging grill pan. The stains on the hob hadn’t shifted no matter how hard
he’d scrubbed. “There is a microwave, too,” he said, pointing to the
microwave. “And washing machine. And toaster also, and kettle and
sofa-set . . . carpet . . .” He trailed off, ridiculous to himself. “The
heater works fine. It’s included in the rent. I’m sorry there’s no TV.”
“I’m used to it.” She looked to the wall. “Nice map.”
“Oh. Thank you. I thought . . .” What did he think? “I want to visit
every continent of the world.” She smiled politely, as if he’d said he
wanted to visit the moons of Jupiter. “It’s one of my dreams.”
There were only two other rooms. The bathroom was tiny, and the
pipes buffalo-groaned when he forced the taps. In the centre of the
greenish tub the hand-held shower lay in a perfect coil of chrome, like
an alien turd.
“And this is your private room,” he said, opening the second door.
She didn’t step inside. There wasn’t much to see: a double bed, a
rail for her clothes, a few wire coat hangers. Some globs of Blu-Tack
on damp, loose wallpaper. There was a long, hinged mirror straight
ahead which they found themselves staring into, him standing behind
her. She didn’t even reach his shoulders. It was cold and he noticed
her nipples showing through her tunic. Frowning, she pulled her coat
shut and he averted his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s too small. And dirty. I’ll look for something else tomorrow.”

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 4

8/4/15 8:41 AM

Arrivals · 5

“It’s fine. Honestly. Thank you for finding it for me.”
“Truly?” He exhaled relief. “There is a bus from the bottom of the
hill that can take you into town.”
“And that hill will keep me in shape.”
“And this isn’t an area with lots of apneh.” Her lips parted, but she
didn’t speak. “Like you asked,” he reminded her. “And the gurdwara’s
only a few stops away. In Burngreave. I can show you? If you like?”
“We’ll see,” she said. “It’s late. Can I call you tomorrow?”
“Of course. But you should know that the flat downstairs is empty.
So no disturbances.” He smiled, pleased with himself. “Yes, this flat
was a special find. Especially at this time of year, it is not easy. We
were lucky.” That “we” was problematic and knocked him off balance.
“But I should go,” he said hastily. He took up his red tracksuit top and
zipped it to his chin, pushing the short sleeves up to his elbows.
She walked him to the stairs, saying, “You should probably bring a
few of your things and leave them here.”
He nearly blurted out that his suitcase was just outside, in the gennel. “I will bring some. But I will telephone you first.” He wouldn’t be
one of those boys who turned up at a girl’s house unannounced and
unexpected.Then he remembered about the meter tokens. “The light.”
He pointed down the stairs. “There is a meter underneath. It takes
the pink electric tokens. Not the white ones. The pink ones. There is
a shop around the corner. The aunty there sells them.”
She looked confused. “Do I have to collect these tokens? Like
vouchers?”
“Collect them from the shop, yes. Only be careful you put the
cards in straight. Would you like me to show you? The meter?”
She’d never heard of electricity being pink, or white for that matter, but she was tired from the journey and said she really did just
want to sleep. “But thanks for everything, Randeep.”
She used his name, without “ji” and to his face, which hurt him
a little. But this was England. “No problem. And do not worry. You
won’t need any for a while yet. I put lots in before you came.”
She thanked him again, then—perhaps out of nerves, needing her

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 5

8/4/15 8:41 AM

6  ·  The Year of the Runaways

fingers occupied—retightened her chunni over her turban and under
her chin. It made her eyes look bigger, somehow.
Randeep opened his wallet and held out some notes to her. “Next
month’s.” He was looking away. He hated doing it like this. At least
when she lived in London it had gone by post. She too seemed embarrassed to take it.
He said goodbye. Halfway down the stairs he stopped, looked
round. “I hope you don’t mind, but is everything all right? You are not
in any trouble?”
“Oh, I just need to rest. I’ll be fine tomorrow. Can I call you?”
“Of course you may. Of course.” He smiled, then went down the
remaining steps and opened the door. He nodded a final goodbye.
She leaned forward out of the doorway, arms folded. She looked uncertain.
Randeep held his suitcase across his lap on the bus ride home. Of
course she wasn’t going to ask him to stay. It was stupid of him to
have thought she might. If anything, he wondered now if she’d seemed
eager for him to leave her alone. He spat coarsely into his hankie and
worked out a bit of dirt on the brown leather of his case, which still
gleamed, in spite of the coach to Delhi, the flight to London, and now
three months spent wedged on the roof of that disgusting wardrobe.
He got off right outside the house and saw the grey-blue light of
the TV flickering behind the closed curtains. He’d hoped they’d be
asleep by now. He went the long way round the block, stopping off at
the Londis for some of those fizzy cola-bottle sweets.
“You are leaving?” the singh asked. The suitcase.
“I was helping a friend move only.”
The TV was still on when he got back. Randeep turned the key
gradually, wincing at the loud final snap of the metal tongue, and went
straight up to his room on the second floor. He sat there polishing his
workboots with the toilet roll and after that he changed the blanket
on his mattress, taking care with the corner-folds. Then he lay down,

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 6

8/4/15 8:41 AM

Arrivals · 7

the darkness roomy around him, and with no real enthusiasm reached
for the toilet roll once more.
It was near midnight when the clanging of the gate woke him up.
He hadn’t meant to fall asleep afterwards and the scrunch of sticky
toilet paper was still in his hand.
Downstairs, he went through the beaded curtain and found Avtar
gulping straight from the tap. The back of his uniform read crunchy
fried chicken. Randeep stood in the doorway, weaving one of the
long strings in and out of his fingers.There was a calendar of tropically
naked blonde women on the wall by the fridge. Someone would have
to get a new one soon.
Avtar turned off the tap, though it continued to drip. “Where is
everyone?”
“Asleep.”
“Did someone do the milk run?”
“Don’t think so.”
Avtar groaned. “I can’t do everything, yaar.Who’s on the roti shift?”
Randeep shrugged. “Not me.”
“I bet it’s that new guy. Watch, they’ll be bhanchod burnt again.”
Randeep nodded, sighed. Outside the window, the moon was full.
There were no stars though, just an even pit of black, and if he altered
the focus of his eyes, he saw his vague reflection. He wondered what
his father would be doing.
“Do you think Gurpreet’s right? About what he said this morning?”
“What did he say this morning?”
“You were there.”
“I was asleep.”
“He said it’s not work that makes us leave home and come here. It’s
love. Love for our families.” Randeep turned to Avtar. “Do you think
that’s true?”
“I think he’s a sentimental creep. We come here for the same reason our people do anything. Duty. We’re doing our duty. And it’s shit.”
Randeep turned back to the window. “Maybe.”
“And I asked bhaji, by the way, but there’s nothing right now.”

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 7

8/4/15 8:41 AM

8  ·  The Year of the Runaways

The job, Randeep remembered. He was relieved. He’d only mentioned it during a low moment, needing solidarity. One job was
enough. He didn’t know how Avtar managed two.
“How’d the thing with the girl go?”
“Nothing special,” Randeep said.
“Told you,” and Avtar picked up his satchel from where it rested
against the flour barrel. He took out his manila college folder and
wriggled up onto the worktop.
Randeep had learned by now that when Avtar didn’t want to be
disturbed he just ignored you until you went away. He let the beads
fall through his hands and was turning to go when Avtar asked if it
was true that Gurpreet hit him this morning in the bathroom queue.
“It was nothing,” Randeep said.
“He’s just jealous, you know.”
Randeep waited—for sympathy? for support?—but Avtar curled
back down to his book, trying out the words under his breath, eyes
glinting at the end of each line. Avtar’s posture reminded Randeep of
the trips he used to make between college and home, his own textbook open on his lap.
In his room, he changed into his tracksuit bottoms, annoyed he’d
forgotten to warm them against the oven, then slid inside the blanket.
He knew he should try to sleep. Five hours and he’d have to be up
again. But he felt restless, suddenly and inexplicably optimistic for
the first time in months. Years? He got up and moved to the window
and laid his forehead against the cool pane. She was somewhere on
the other side of the city. Somewhere in that dark corner beyond the
lights, beyond that pinkish blur he knew to be a nightclub called the
Leadmill. He wondered if she’d noticed how he’d spent each evening
after work scrubbing the doors and descal­ing the tiles and washing
the carpet. Maybe she was thinking about all he’d done right now as
she unpacked her clothes and hung them on the rail. Or maybe she’d
decided to have a bath instead and was now watching TV, thick blue
towels wrapped around her head and body the way British girls do.
His forehead pressed harder against the glass. He was being ridiculous
again. There was no TV, for one thing. But he couldn’t lose the sense

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 8

8/4/15 8:41 AM

Arrivals · 9

that this was a turning point in his life, that she’d been delivered to
him for a reason. She’d called him in her hour of need, hadn’t she? He
wondered whether she’d found his note yet, the rose-scented card
leaning inside the cupboard above the sink. He cringed and hoped
she hadn’t. At the time, in the petrol station, he’d convinced himself
it was the sophisticated thing to do. Now, he exhaled a low groan and
closed his eyes and forced himself to remember each carefully written word.
Dear Narinderji, I sincerely hope you are well and are enjoying your
new home. A beautiful flat for a beautiful person. And a new start for us
both maybe. If I may be of any assistance please do not hesitate to make
contact. I am at your service day and night. In the interim, may I be the
first to wish you, in your new home, a very Happy NewYear (2003).
Respectfully yours, Randeep Sanghera.
It was gone 2 a.m. and Avtar was still sitting up on the counter. He’d
long set aside his college notes. His ankles were crossed and the heels
of his trainers lightly tapped the cupboards. He could feel his eyes
start to close, a shallow dark descending. He jolted himself upright.
“Come on, come on,” he said, half to himself, half to Bal, the guy he
was waiting for. He checked his phone. He recounted the money. He
had enough, had earned enough. Then his phone rang, too loud for
that time of night. It was them.
“So we come to yours?”
“No, no. Keep to the gardens.” He didn’t want them knowing
where he lived.
He zipped up his jacket and sneaked out of the house and down
onto Ecclesall Road, heading away from the city. The shabby restaurants were all closed, the pound shops shuttered. He liked this road in
the day, a place of business and exchange, a road that seemed to carry
on into the hills. Tonight, though, there was only a scrappy silence,
and the city at his back, the countryside glowering ahead. He gripped
the top of the zip between his lips, flicking it with the end of his
tongue, and breathed out puffs of air that hung briefly in the cold.

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 9

8/4/15 8:41 AM

10  ·  The Year of the Runaways

He turned up towards the Botanical Gardens and saw them sitting
in their rich black BMW, faces flooded by the car’s interior light. The
engine was still gunning. Bal got out, the eldest of the three brothers,
all long leather and shaped facial hair. The gold ring on his right hand
was the size and shape of a fifty-pence piece. Avtar nodded, jogged to
meet him.
“Why so late? I have work soon.”
“True what they say, man. Fuckin’ cold up north.”
“You were held up?”
“By another one of you chumps. In Birmingham. He won’t be doing that again.”
Avtar handed the money over. “It’s all there. So tell your uncle not
to bother my family. Do you understand?”
Bal counted it, note by note. “Good. It’s just my share, then.”
“Arré, go fuck a cow. I can’t pay extra every—”
He slapped Avtar. “It’s two o’clock in the bastard morning, I’m
in the arse-end of nowhere and you want to argue the fucking toss?”
Hand on his cheek, Avtar looked over to the two in the car, the
baseball bat he knew they kept in their boot, then back at Bal’s heavy
face. The height, which stretched the fat out of Bal’s body, couldn’t do
the same for his slabbed cheeks and jaw. He took three more notes
from his pocket and threw them across. “If we were in India, bhaji, I
swear I’d break all your bhanchod bones.”
Bal feigned confusion. “What would I be doing in India?” Then he
laughed and pinched Avtar’s cheek, as if he were a child.
Three hours of sleep later, Avtar forced his stiff second pair of socks
up over the first and pulled on his oversized workboots. He stuffed
the sides with kitchen towel until they fitted. Then he picked up
his rucksack, his hard hat and reflector jacket, and locked the door
quickly. He was late.
He and Randeep were the last of the twelve to come down the
stairs. They mumbled a quick prayer over the smoking joss stick and
rushed out. Avtar didn’t mind: it meant they got the nearest waiting

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 10

8/4/15 8:41 AM

Arrivals · 11

point. The street lamps were still on, spreading their winter yellow.
The chill was sharp as needles.
“So cold, yaar,” Randeep said, and tucked his gloved hands into his
armpits.
They turned onto Snuff Mill Lane and waited beside a twiggy
hedge near the Spar. The National Lottery sign reverberated in the
wind. Any van pulling up would look like it was only delivering the
day’s newspapers.
“There used to be a flour mill here,” Randeep said. “Hundreds of
years ago. I read about it.”
“Yeah,” Avtar said, too tired to really talk.
They took out their Tupperware boxes and peeled off the lids.
Avtar held up one of his chapattis: a brittle misshapen thing full of
burn holes. “No joke, I genuinely think my cock could do better.”
Randeep smeared the chilli gobi around his roti, then rolled it all
up like a sausage.
The white Transit arrived and they climbed into the back and
squeezed onto the wheel arches. The others were already in there,
eating, or asleep on the blankets that covered the corrugated floor.
Randeep squashed his bag under his knees, behind his legs. Opposite,
Gurpreet was drawing on his roll-up and looking right at him.
“Did you wear that jacket all the way down the street?” Gurpreet
asked, rocking side to side. “Do you bhanchod want to get seen?”
“I was in a hurry.”
“In a hurry to get us all caught, eh, little prince?”
He’d have to take some of his clothes over to her soon. He concentrated on that.
“So what was she like, then?” Gurpreet asked. “Our Mrs. Randeep
Singh?”
Randeep pretended not to hear.
“Oy! I asked you something.”
“Nothing. Like any girl.”
“Oh, come on. Tall, slim, short? What about . . . ?” He mimed
breasts.
Frowning, Randeep said he didn’t notice, didn’t care to notice.

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 11

8/4/15 8:41 AM

12  ·  The Year of the Runaways

“And she didn’t let you stay?”
“I didn’t want to.”
Gurpreet laughed. “Maybe one day you will.”
“Leave him alone,” Avtar said, strongly, eyes still closed.
“Where are we going today?” Randeep asked quickly.
Vinny—boss, driver—spoke up: “A new job, boys. We’re off to
Leeds.”
They all groaned, complaining about how late they’d be back.
“Hey, ease up, yeah? Or maybe I need to get me some freshies who
actually want the work?”
Someone in the back closed his fist and made the wanker sign, a
new thing that had been going round the house recently.
The proposed hotel site was directly behind the train station. A board
so white it sparkled read, Coming soon! The Green: a Luxury Environmentally Friendly Living Space and Hotel in the City of Leeds. But right now it
was just a massive crater, topsoil scraped off and piled in a pyramid to
one side. At least all the bushes and trees had been cleared.
They assembled in the corner of the station car park, looking down
onto the site. Another vanload joined them. Mussulmans, Randeep
guessed. Bangladeshis even, by the look of them. A man approached,
his hard hat askew on his big pink head. He went straight to Vinny and
the two spoke and then shook hands.
“All right, boys,” Vinny said. “This is John.Your gaffer. Do what he
says and you’ll be fine. I’ll pick you up at seven.”
The van reversed and Vinny left. Randeep moved closer to Avtar:
if this John was going to pair them off then he wanted to be with him.
But John began by handing out large pieces of yellow paper, faintly
grid-lined. Avtar took one, studied it. Randeep peered down over his
shoulder.
“These are the project plans,” John said, walking back and forth.
“As you can see there’s lots to do, lots to do, so let’s just take it one
step at a time, yes? You understand?”

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 12

8/4/15 8:41 AM

Arrivals · 13

“We could do this with our eyes closed,” Avtar muttered. “Saala
bhanchod.”
“Oy! No, bhaji!” John said, bursting into Panjabi, pointing at Avtar
with the rolled-up paper. “I no longer fuck my sister, acha?”
Avtar stared, open-mouthed, and then everyone was laughing.
They put on their hats, smoothing their hair out of the way, chose
tool-belts and made for the footings stacked in neat angles on the
wooden pallets. John called them back. He wanted stakes in first.
“But it will take twice as long,” Avtar said.
John didn’t care. “We’re doing this properly. It’s not one of your
shanty towns.”
So Avtar and Randeep piled a wheelbarrow with the stakes and
bumped on down to their squared-off section of the site. “You put in
the stakes and I’ll follow with the footings,” Avtar said.
Randeep dropped onto one knee and held a stake to the ground.
With a second glance towards the plan, he brought down his hammer.
“Like last time?” He wasn’t going to fall for that again.
“It’ll take all week just to do this,” Avtar said. “It’s as big as one of
their bhanchod football grounds.”
At lunchtime, they found their backpacks and joined the others
sitting astride a large tunnel of aluminium tubing, newly exposed
from the dig. Beside them, a tarpaulin acted as a windbreak. They slid
off their helmets. Their hair was sopping.
Afterwards one or two pulled on their coats and turned up their
collars and sank into a sleep. The rest decided on a cricket match
to stay warm. They found a plank of wood for a bat and several had
tennis balls handy. They divided into Sikhs and Muslims, three overs
each. Gurpreet elected himself captain and won the toss. He put the
Muslims in to bat.
“No slips, but an edge is automatic out,” he said, topknot swinging
as he ran back to bowl.
He was knocked for fourteen off the first over, the last ball screaming for a six. Gurpreet watched it arc above his head and land somewhere in the car park.

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 13

8/4/15 8:41 AM

14  ·  The Year of the Runaways

“Arré, yaar, there’s something wrong with that ball.”
“Right,” Avtar said. “The fact that it is being bowled by you.”
Randeep laughed but when Gurpreet glowered he fell silent.
They needed thirty-one to win and came nowhere near, with
Avtar going for glory and getting caught, and puffing Gurpreet easily
run out.
“These Mussulmans,” he said, throwing aside the bat. “Cheating is
in their nature.”
John approached and for the first time Randeep noticed his gentle
limp.
“Bohut good work, men, bohut good work. But come on, jaldi
jaldi, it looks like you’ll have it all khetum in no time.”
Avtar and Randeep stowed their lunchboxes and trudged down
the site. Another six hours to go.
Vinny was late that evening.
“Some of us have other jobs to get to, yaar,” Avtar said.
“Sorry, sorry,” Vinny said. “I had to go to Southall.” He was forced
to turn left. “Crazy one-way system in this city.”
“Is there work in Southall?” Avtar asked, up and alert.
“Hm? No, no. The opposite. I’ve found another one of you slackers.You’ll have to make some more room back there.”
No one spoke. It was nothing new. They came and went all the
time.
Soon they hit the motorway. Someone asked if Vinny Sahib had
heard anything about any raids? Because one of those Mussulmans,
you see, he was telling that the raids have started again.
Vinny whistled a single clean note while shaking his head. “I’ve
not heard a thing. Why would I? Far as I’m concerned you’re all legit,
ain’t you? You all showed me your papers. Nowt to do with owt, me.”
The van continued in the slow lane, the tyres rumbling away under
Randeep, a vibration that felt vacantly erotic. Then something made
him sit up. At first he thought it was rain but it was too slow and
gentle to be that. Then he understood, and touched his fingertips to

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 14

8/4/15 8:41 AM

Arrivals · 15

the back window. “Mashallah,” someone said, as Randeep felt them all
brimming up behind him, pressing and jostling to stare at the sky, at
the globe of tumbling snow around each street light.
At the house, Avtar persuaded Vinny to drop him off at the chip
shop, leaving Randeep to eat alone in his room. Soon he was in bed,
too exhausted to call Narinderji, too exhausted even to sleep, and he
was still awake when he thought he heard a door sliding shut, like a
van’s side door, and the downstairs bell being rung. He swiped clear a
patch in the window—Vinnyji again?—and went down the first flight
of stairs. Gurpreet and the others had edged into the hallway, shushing one another.
“It’s Vinnyji,” Randeep called down but no one seemed to hear him.
Gurpreet bent to the letter box, just as Vinny’s voice came through,
shouting that he was freezing his fucking kecks off out here. Quickly,
the door was opened and he hurried in. He was hunched over, looking
shorter than usual, and each needle of his spiked hair was topped with
a bobble of snow. Behind him was someone new.
Randeep joined them in the front room, glancing around for Avtar.
The others were all there: some perched on the mattress laid over
the metal trunk, two squatting on an upturned milk crate, several
flopped into the Union Jack deckchairs nicked from a garden a couple
of weeks ago.The TV was balanced on a three-legged stool in the middle of the room, playing their favourite desi call-in show.
“This is Tochi,” Vinny said, his thumb chucked towards the new
guy. “Starts tomorrow, acha?”
He was very dark, much darker than Randeep, and shorter, but
he looked strong. The tendons in his neck stood out. Twenty-one,
twenty-two. One or two years older than him, anyway. So another
he’d have to call bhaji.
“I’ve got a spare mattress in the van. He’ll be staying in yours, OK,
Ronny?”
It wasn’t really a question but Randeep said he was absolutely fine
with that.
He and Tochi carried the mattress up the two flights and leaned it
against the wall. They’d have to take out the wardrobe first.

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 15

8/4/15 8:41 AM

16  ·  The Year of the Runaways

“Wait,” Randeep said and placed his suitcase to one side, out of
harm’s way.
“Cares more about that fucking suitcase . . .” Vinny said.
They bullied the wardrobe out and shoved in the mattress and then
Vinny said he had to go.
“Have a beer,” Gurpreet said, joining them on the landing.
Vinny said he couldn’t. “Was meant to be back an hour ago. She’ll
have the face on enough as it is.” He turned to the new guy and made
a star of his hand. “Five sharp, you understand? These lot’ll show you
the ropes.”
When the three of them were left, Gurpreet folded his arms on
the shelf of his gut, slowly. “So. Where you from?”
Tochi walked into the room and closed the door. Gurpreet stared
after him, then pushed off the banister and huffed downstairs.
Randeep waited. He wanted to make a good first impression. He
wanted a friend. He knocked and opened the door, stepping inside.
The guy looked to be asleep already, still in his clothes and boots, and
knees drawn up and hands pressed between them. He’d moved his
mattress as far from Randeep’s as was possible in that small room:
under the window, where the chill would be blowing down on him,
through the tape.
“Would you like a blanket? I have one spare,” Randeep whispered.
He asked again and when he again got no reply he tiptoed forward
and folded out his best blanket and spread it over his new roommate.
Downstairs, there were still two rotis foil-wrapped in the fridge. He
heated them straight on the hob. He liked the froggy way they puffed
up. Then he coated them with some mango pickle. He didn’t want to
join the others in the front room, where he could hear the TV blaring,
but he didn’t want to disturb his new roommate either. So he stayed
there, marooned in the middle of the kitchen because there wasn’t a
single clean surface to lean on, tearing shapes out of his roti and feeding himself.

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 16

8/4/15 8:41 AM

Arrivals · 17

By 3:15 the next morning Randeep was awake and washed and
dressed and in the kitchen binning the previous day’s joss stick and
lighting a fresh one. He said a quick prayer, warming his hands by the
cooker flame, and set about getting what he needed: frying pans, rolling pin, butter and dough from the fridge, a cupful of flour from the
blue barrel. He dusted the worktop with the flour and tore a small
chunk from the cold brown dough, softening it between his palms. He
had just over an hour to get sixty rotis done.
He paced himself and rolled out the dough-balls methodically.
Four rolls up, turn it round, four rolls more, a pinch more flour, three
more rolls on each side and then into the pan. He found himself whistling even as his upper arms filled with a rich, dull ache. There was
movement around the house: radio alarms, the thrust of a tap. He
quickened up and once the rotis were done and wrapped he dumped
the frying pans in the sink for whoever would be on washing duty
that night and replaced them on the hob with four large steel pans of
water, full gas. He added tea bags, cloves, fennel and sugar and while
all that boiled he gathered up the five flasks and dozen Tupperware
boxes stacked on the windowsill. Each box bore a name written in
felt-tip Panjabi. He found an extra box for his new roommate, Tochi,
and spooned in some potato sabzi from the fridge. As he carried a sixlitre carton of milk to the hob, Gurpreet wandered in, the bib of his
dungarees dangling half undone. He was pinning his turban into place.
“All finished? Thought you might have needed some help again.”
Randeep flushed but concentrated on pouring the milk into the
pans.
“Clean the bucket after you wash, acha?” Gurpreet went on, moving to the Tupperware boxes. “None of your servants here.”
He had cleaned it, he was sure he had, and his family had never
had servants. He didn’t say anything. He just watched Gurpreet moving some of the sabzi from the other boxes, including Randeep’s, and
adding it to his own. He wondered if he did this with everyone or only
when it was Randeep on the roti shift.
“Where’s your new friend from?”

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 17

8/4/15 8:41 AM

18  ·  The Year of the Runaways

Randeep said he didn’t know, that he went to sleep straightaway.
“His name?”
“Tochi.”
“Surname, fool.”
Randeep thought for a moment, shrugged. “Never said.”
“Hmm. Strange.”
Randeep didn’t say a word, didn’t know what he was driving at,
and stood silently waiting for the pans to come to the boil again. He
had the twitchy sensation he was being stared at. Sure enough, Gurpreet was still there by the fridge, eyes fixed.
“Bhaji?” Randeep asked. Gurpreet grunted, seemed to snap out
of it and left, then the hiss of the tea had Randeep leaping to turn off
the gas.
Soon the house was a whirl of voices and feet and toilet flushes and
calls to get out of bed. They filed down, rucksacks slung over sleepy
shoulders, taking their lunchbox from the kitchen counter; next a
rushed prayer at the joss stick and out into the cold morning dark in
twos and threes, at ten-minute intervals. Randeep looked for Tochi
but he must have gone ahead, so he paired up with Avtar as usual.
Before he left the house he remembered to take up the pencil strung
and taped to the wall and he scored a firm thick tick next to his name
on the rota.
Overnight, the ground had toughened, compacted, and at the end of
the morning they were still staking it out while Langra John—Limpy
John—and three other white men went about in yellow JCBs.
“Wish I had that job,” Randeep said, closing his lunchbox. “Just
driving about all day.”
Avtar clucked his tongue. “One day, my friend. Keep working hard
and one day we’ll be the bosses.”
Randeep leaned back against the aluminium tunnel. He shut his
eyes and must have nodded off for a while because the next thing he
heard was the insistent sound of Gurpreet’s voice.
“But you must have a pind. Was that in Calcutta too?”

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 18

8/4/15 8:41 AM

Arrivals · 19

Tochi was sitting against a low wall, the soles of his boots pressed
together and knees thrown wide open.
“I’m talking to you,” Gurpreet said.
“My pind’s not in Calcutta.”
“Where, then?”
Tochi swigged from his water bottle and took his time screwing
the top back on. He had a quiet voice. “Bihar.”
Gurpreet looked round at everyone as if to say, Didn’t I tell you?
“So what are you?”
Avtar spoke up. “Arré, this is England, yaar. Leave him.”
“Ask him his bhanchod name.”
Shaking his head, Avtar turned to Tochi. “What are you? Ramgarhia?
Saini? Just shut him up.”
“Ask him his bhanchod name, I said.”
Tochi made to get up, frost crackling underfoot. “Tarlochan Kumar.”
Randeep frowned a little but hoped no one saw it.
“A bhanchod chamaar,” Gurpreet said, laughing. “Even the bhanchod chamaars are coming to England.”
“Who cares?” Avtar said.
“Only backward people care,” Randeep said, but Gurpreet was
still laughing away to himself and then John limped up and said they
better get a move on.
“Do you think he’s got a visa?” Randeep asked, when they started
up again.
Avtar looked at him. “When did you last meet a rich chamaar?”
“His parents might have helped him.”
“Janaab, don’t go asking him about his parents. He’s probably an
orphan.”
That evening Gurpreet knocked on their bedroom door and said he
and a few of the others were going out, so Randeep and Tochi would
have to help with the milk run. “You’ve got Tesco.”
“Where are you going?” Randeep asked and Gurpreet made a fist
and pumped it down by his crotch.

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 19

8/4/15 8:41 AM

20  ·  The Year of the Runaways

“And stop buying those bhanchod cloves and whatnot. We don’t
have money to waste, little prince.”
Randeep waited until he heard him on the stairs, out of earshot.
“He’s that ugly he has to pay for it.”
Tochi was threading his belt around himself. The swish of it sliced
the air. “You’ll have to do it yourself.”
“I can’t carry all that milk. Do you know how far it is? Can’t you
help me?”
“Join one of the others.”
“But we can’t all go to the same place. The gora gets suspicious.”
Tochi said nothing.
“I respect you, bhaji,” Randeep said. “Can’t you help me?”
On Ecclesall Road the roadworks still hadn’t finished and the street
was all headlights and banked-up snow. Randeep pulled his woolly hat
lower over his ears and marched through. Tarlochan only had on his
jeans and a shirt which kept belling in the wind. His jeans had no
pockets, as if they’d been torn, and his hands looked raw-white with
cold, like the claws of some sea creature.
“Next time I will insist you borrow my gloves,” Randeep said. “You
can have them. I have two pairs.”
As they passed the turn-off for the Botanical Gardens, Randeep
pointed. “That’s where Avtar bhaji’s second job is. Through the gardens and carry on straight.”
“Whose garden is it?”
“No one’s. Everyone’s. Maybe the government’s. But they’re
pretty. I always think it’s like we have the city, then the gardens, then
the countryside.” He nodded towards the hills, made smoothly charcoal by the night. “Shall we go there one day? To the countryside?”
“How many apneh work with your friend?”
Privately, Randeep felt “apneh” was perhaps a little too far, given
their background. “A few, but no one else from the house.You looking
for a second job too?”
He didn’t say anything. Instead he turned sharp left down a road,
his head bent low. Randeep yelled his name, then ran to catch up.
“Police,” Tochi said, still walking.

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 20

8/4/15 8:41 AM

Arrivals · 21

Randeep turned round and saw the blue lights revolving by. “No
visa, then.”
“I guess not.”
“How did you get here? Ship or truck?”
“On your mother’s cunt.”
Randeep stared glumly into a dark coffee-shop window. It didn’t
seem to matter how hard he tried.
“Sorry,” Tochi said. He looked annoyed with himself.
“I’m on a marriage visa.” Randeep expected a reaction but got
none. “I got married,” he went on, aware he was starting to blather.
“To a girl. She came over to Panjab. From London. But she’s here now.
In Sheffield, I mean.”
“So why not live with her?”
“She’s Sikhni. But I’m not that bothered, if I’m honest with you,
bhaji. I’m going to take some clothes over soon but that’s it. It’s just
one year, get my stamp, pay her the money, get the divorce, then
bring my parents and sisters over. It’s all agreed with Narinderji.” And
he wished he’d not said her name. He felt like he’d revealed something of himself.
They bought milk, flour, bread, potatoes and toilet roll and went
back to the house. Others were returning with their milk and shopping too, and it all got piled into the fridge, done for another week.
A
Randeep took a step back from the door and looked up to the window. The light was on. He rang the doorbell again and this time heard
feet on the stairs and Narinderji appeared on the other side of the
thick glass—“I’m coming, I’m coming”—and let him in.
“Sorry. I was in the middle of my paat.”
“I didn’t realize,” Randeep said, following her up to the flat.
With each step his suitcase hit the side of his leg, and, as he entered,
the gurbani was still playing. She hadn’t changed anything much. It
was all very plain. The single plain brown leather settee. A plain tablecloth. The bulb was still without its shade. Only the blackout cur-

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 21

8/4/15 8:41 AM

22  ·  The Year of the Runaways

tains looked new. A pressure cooker was whistling on the stove, and
the whole worktop was a rich green pasture of herbs. In the corner,
between the window and her bedroom door, she’d created a shrine:
some kind of wooden plinth swathed in a gold-tasselled ramallah, and
on top of this both a brass kandha and a picture each of Guru Nanak
and Guru Gobind. In front of the plinth, on a cushion, her gutka lay
open, bound in orange cloth, and beside that a stereo player. The gurbani began to fade out and the CD clicked mournfully off. Randeep
set his case by the settee.
“How have you been?”
“I’m getting used to it.” Her hands were clasped loosely over her
long black cardigan.
“You are getting to know your way around?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“At least the weather is getting a smidgen better now. I thought the
snow would never stop.”
She gave a tiny smile but said nothing. Randeep wondered if she
just wanted him to hurry up and leave again. He knelt before his case
and thumbed the silver dials until the thing snapped open.
“Well, as I said on the phone, I’ve brought some clothes and things
for you to keep here.”
He draped a pair of matching shirts across the creased rump of
the settee, along with some black trousers and starched blue jeans, all
still on their bent wire hangers. He took a white carrier bag tied in a
knot at the top and left this on the table. “Shaving cream, aftershave,
that kind of thing. And also some underwear,” he added in the casual
manner he’d practised on the way down. Then he reached back into
his suitcase and handed her a slim red felt album. “And these are the
photographs I think we—you—should hang up.”
He watched her palming through the pages. The first few were
taken on their wedding day, in a gurdwara outside his city of Chandigarh. The later ones showed them enjoying themselves, laughing in a
Florentine garden, choosing gifts at a market. “They look believable
to me,” she said.
“Vakeelji sorted it all out. He said sometimes they ask to see where

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 22

8/4/15 8:41 AM

Arrivals · 23

we went on holiday.” He sidestepped saying “honeymoon.” “There are
dates on the back.”
“Are there stamps on our passports?”
“It’s all taken care of.”
Suddenly, her nose wrinkled and she held the album face-out
towards him: the two of them posing in a busy restaurant, his arm
around her waist.
“Vakeelji said there have to be signs of—intimacy.” He’d looked
past her as he’d uttered the word.
“I don’t care what Vakeelji said.” She shut the album and dropped
it onto the settee. “This isn’t what I agreed to.”
He felt himself getting riled, as if discarding the photos in some
way reflected her feelings towards him. “Look, can’t we just do what
Vakeelji said? I’m the one with everything to lose here.”
“I’ve put a lot at stake too.”
“Yes. I’m certain you have. And I’m very thankful for all you’re
doing. I’m sorry if that isn’t clear. We won’t use the photos.”
The silence seemed calculated, forcing her to relent.
“Most are fine to use,” she said, and he nodded and retrieved the
album.
“I only hope we’ve got enough. I’m hearing rumours of raids.”
There was a sort of frozen alarm in her face which thawed to
incomprehension. “You think this place will be raided? By who?”
“It’s just people at work talking. And there are always rumours.
But it’s better to be prepared. Maybe I should come and live here?” he
said, testing the water a little.
The shock of the suggestion seemed to force her mouth to open.
“I was not being serious.”
“It’s too small. And the weather,” she said, randomly.
“I understand completely,” he said, layering smiles over his disappointment. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so warm in
a house, with food smelling as good as that on the cooker.
She made to walk him to the door.
“Shall I help you with this first? It’s not fair to leave you to pack
it all away.” Delay tactics. She said she’d do it later. That it wasn’t a

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 23

8/4/15 8:41 AM

24  ·  The Year of the Runaways

problem. Reluctantly, Randeep followed her down the stairs. As she
opened the door he took the notes out of his pocket and handed them
to her.
“Another month,” she said. “The year will be over before we
know it.”
“Yes!” he replied, shaking his head, as if amazed how quickly the
time was passing, when really it seemed to him that each new week
took on the span of an entire age.
After he’d gone, she collapsed onto the armrest of the settee, face hidden. This was too hard. This was too much to give. What had she got
herself into? She lifted her head out of her arm and was met with the
images of her gurus. They spoke to her, reminding her that she always
knew it was going to be hard, that doing the right thing is never the
easy choice, but to remember that Waheguru is her ship and He would
bear her safely across. She felt Him beside her, and felt her resolve
return, as if the blood was pumping more thickly through her body.
She fetched from the drawer the map she’d picked up from the
station and zoned in on her street.The surrounding areas didn’t sound
like places she wanted to visit: Rawmarsh, Pitsmoor, Crosspool. Burn­
greave. Killamarsh. They sounded so angry, these northern places,
like they wanted to do you harm.
Across the city, Randeep lay on his mattress. Everyone had eaten early
and gone to sleep, tired out from a whole muddy week of shovelling
up and levelling out cement. No one had even mentioned his second
visit to the wife. He replayed their conversation and was more or less
pleased with how it had gone. They seemed to understand each other
and if the year carried on like that everything would be fine. He was
hopeful of that. He heard the downstairs door go and the kitchen
beads jangling. Probably Avtar would stay in the kitchen for an hour,
eating, studying, counting how much money he had, or didn’t have.

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 24

8/4/15 8:41 AM

Arrivals · 25

Randeep wouldn’t join him. The last few times he had gone downstairs he’d got the impression he was only getting in the way.
Rain pattered against the glass. He turned his head towards Tochi.
Yesterday, Tochi had moved his mattress out from under the window
and turned it at a right angle, so he and Randeep now lay parallel to
each other, the door at their feet. Randeep guessed it was so he could
sleep facing the wall. His boots were crossed at the ankles and were
the only part of him that poked out from under the blanket. Randeep’s blanket. Which he’d not even been thanked for.
“Bhaji, are you awake?”
Nothing.
“Bhaji?”
“What?”
Randeep didn’t know what. He hadn’t had a conversation planned.
“I can’t sleep.” Then, a minute or so later, “This is strange, isn’t it?”
“Go to sleep.”
“I mean, when you were a kid, did you ever think you’d be working in Sheffield, in England, and living in a house like this? I’d never
even heard of Sheffield.” There was silence and Randeep asked, “Do
you still have people back home?”
Tochi didn’t reply. The rain seemed to be plashing harder and Randeep drew his blanket up around his neck.
“Bhaji?”
“What?”
“I like hearing the rain outside.”
A pause, and then Tochi: “Me too.”

Saho_9781101946107_2p_all_r1.j.indd 25

8/4/15 8:41 AM

`

Chapter 1

T

hey are going to kill her.
Walt Whitman, reporter for the New York Aurora, is standing in the courtyard of the Tombs, with several hundred New Yorkers who have crushed past his cold, aching body for a glimpse of the
execution.
The sun is at the halfway point on its short cycle through the
winter sky, and its low angle casts long shadows from west to east,
shadows that cover all but the east wall of the prison. It is on this
wall that Lena’s large and lonely shadow is cast as if by stage light.
The noose dances in the harsh winter wind, and below the
gallows, a layer of frost blankets the dirt. Walt pushes his way to
the front of the crowd, the ice crystals crunching beneath his
boots. They are all waiting for Sheriff Jack Harris to return from
his meeting with Mayor Morris about whether or not to grant
Mrs. Stowe a stay on her execution because of her pregnancy.
Walt worries that the decision to deny the stay is a fait accompli,
which is why he brought with him a sheaf of testimonials from
9

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 9

12/16/15 10:39 PM

Lena’s medical students in which they argue that the fetus has
quickened, a legal problem for the city, because if the fetus has
begun to move, New York would be executing two of its citizens
instead of one.
The sheriff’s coach, a new yellow phaeton, rumbles through the
prison gates, around the crowd, and skids to a stop. Jack Harris’s
silver hair is stuffed under a top hat, his bearded face deceptively
slight compared to his stout body. By reputation, he is a man who
sometimes puts instinct before protocol.
Whitman calls out to the sheriff, and when he tries to follow
the lawman, two guards block his way. He scurries back around to
the front of the gallows for a better view. The arrest and trial were
rushed affairs, rigged against her from the beginning, it seemed,
and her defense never gained real traction with anyone but those
closest to her. The students know Lena and Abraham. They spent
time with them every day for months, and they saw what Walt
saw: a couple who, despite their problems, had become closer. None
of them even considered Lena as a suspect until Sheriff Harris
arrested her.
At the sheriff’s appearance atop the gallows, the crowd quiets.
The silence presses down on Walt, and he fights back feelings
of despair. The woman who treated him like a son is beautiful
and haggard, still wearing the medical s­ chool–​­issued black dress
and white apron stained with her husband’s blood, having refused
to change since her arrest. Her long black hair ribbons stream in
the wind, and her dark eyes are red and swollen. His heart aches
to see her suffer like this.
The sheriff approaches the condemned woman, her body
quivering, and he whispers in her ear.
There is a moment of ­nothingness—

10

J. A a ro n S a n d e r s

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 10

12/16/15 10:39 PM

—​­and then she reels backward, emitting a preternatural scream
that convulses Walt’s soul.
Lena flails until the wiry priest powerfully grips her shoulder.
“And God hath both raised up the Lord,” he calls out in his baritone voice, “and will also raise you up by his own power.”
“But the baby!”
Whitman rushes the stairway but is again blocked by the two
guards. He shuffles backward, stands on his tiptoes. Behind him,
the bloodthirsty crowd stirs.
Harris pauses for a moment, then nods to the jailer, Little
Joe, who holds Lena fast while the sheriff ties her hands behind
her back.
Walt’s heart races.
This time Whitman charges, using his large frame to knock one
guard to the side, the other to the ground, before ascending the
staircase, two steps at a time.
On the hanging platform, half a dozen coppers line the back
end. There’s the priest, ­wide-​­eyed and hunched over. There’s Little Joe, twice as big as any other man in the city, and there’s Sheriff
Harris. Walt holds up the l­eather-​­bound sheaf. “These medical
testimonies demonstrate that Mrs. Stowe is quick with child.”
The sheriff shakes his head. “Mr. Whitman, our medical expert
reached a different conclusion.”
A few feet away, Lena’s sobs are muted by the wind.
Walt takes a step toward the sheriff, and two policemen meet
him. “Mrs. Stowe’s colleagues disagree.”
“Those women are not doctors.”
The sheriff turns away, but Whitman catches him on his shoulder. “You’re a good man. I saw how you restored order after the
cigar girl was murdered.”

Spea k ers

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 11

of th e

Dead

11

12/16/15 10:39 PM

“The law is the law.”
Whitman pushes a little harder. “This city does not need another
controversy.”
At the delay the crowd jitters, the kind of tottering that precedes a mob action.
The sheriff briefly looks Walt in the eye, then gestures to two
of his men, and they promptly take Walt into custody.
“Her death will be on your watch,” Whitman shouts.
Knowing that Walt has failed, Lena resumes her struggle
to get free. She rolls toward the edge of the platform and nearly
goes ­over—
But Little Joe grabs her from behind and lifts her to her feet.
During the commotion, Walt wrestles away, but a third man
kicks him in the stomach, and the other two retake him. The pain
is searing. He rolls to the side. The watchmen have the platform
covered, and there are more of them on the ground for crowd
control and even more at the gate. He is surrounded.
The sheriff slips the black hood over Lena’s head and reaches
for the noose, and that’s when the men holding Whitman loosen
their grip just e­ nough—
He wiggles free, dodges Harris, and scoops up Lena, black hood
and all. She is heavy in his arms, but the adrenaline drives him to
brave the blockade of six men, their Colt pistols drawn, their faces
blank. He charges through them, and miraculously sees daylight
between him and the stairway. If he can only make it d
­ own—
—​­and then the space closes, and the men are upon him. Walt
clings to Lena with all his might until she whispers, her voice
strong and deliberate from beneath the hood, “It’s over, Walt. You
did your best.”
He holds back his tears. “But you’re innocent.”
“Keep the college going so our deaths are not in vain.”
12

J. A a ro n S a n d e r s

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 12

12/16/15 10:39 PM

He holds her tighter.
It takes four men to hold Whitman, and two more to pry Lena
away from him. The men push him to the ground and cuff him,
the metal cutting into his wrists. Walt screams, curses, thrashes
about, mad with rage over what is about to happen.
He watches as the sheriff slips the noose over Lena’s head, positions her over the trapdoor, and addresses those who condemned
her to this fate: “For the murder of Abraham Stowe,” he bellows,
“you have been sentenced to death by hanging, after which your
body will be dissected at the Women’s Medical College of Manhattan.”
The crowd roars.
Walt breathes in.
The sheriff claps three times, the lever is pulled, and the floor
falls ­away—
Lena’s body drops.
—​­her neck breaks.
—​­and Walt Whitman collapses on the platform, sobbing now,
and waits for his friend and her unborn child to die.

Spea k ers

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 13

of th e

Dead

13

12/16/15 10:39 PM

Chapter 2

W

hitman’s wrists sting where the skin has abraded, and his
spirit is raw. He wants to look away from the gruesome
scene, but out of respect for Lena’s wishes, he will bear witness.
Before him, her body twitches, and two men with pistols stand
guard over him. He watches until she stops moving altogether,
her last prayer smothered in its utterance.
At that moment, Coroner Barclay, a tiny excuse for a man, creeps
onto the scene and pronounces Lena dead. Little Joe cuts the rope
suspending her body midair, and she drops into the back of the
coroner’s wagon. Barclay tosses a tarp over her, and drives away.
As Walt stands, restrained, the sheriff finishes up interviews
with James Gordon Bennett from the New York Herald and Horace
Greeley from the New York Tribune. The fact that Greeley and
Bennett, both with readerships in the twenty thousands, are in
attendance illustrates the enormity of what has happened, and
Walt will add his own account to the Aurora as soon as he can. Before
joining the Aurora, with its five thousand readers, he worked as a
14

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 14

12/16/15 10:39 PM

printer for Park Benjamin at the New ­World. while there, several of
his short stories were published by Benjamin, who later hired him
to write the novel Franklin Evans, despite their public disagreements that led to his departure from the New World.
The meeting disbands, and Harris approaches. Walt holds out
his hands to be released.
“Sorry, Mr. Whitman. You’ll be coming with me.” He tugs at
the heavy metal cuffs. “The newspapers are about to run wild
with your antics.”
“But I have an appointment to transport Mrs. Stowe’s body
from the coroner’s to the women’s college today.”
“That is the coroner’s responsibility.”
“I promised Miss Blackwell, and Dr. Barclay agreed.”
“Perhaps you should have had this in mind before you attempted
to halt the execution.”

The watch house jail stinks like an outhouse, and is as dark. Walt
squints to see better but has to rely on ­sounds—​­the shuffling, scraping, and breathing of confined men.
The sheriff leads him to a cell near the back of the hallway.
With a key larger than his hand, Harris unlocks the door and uses
his full body weight to push it open. He nudges Whitman into the
cell, where a f­reckle-​­faced boy with bright red hair sits on the
cell’s one cot. Dressed in socks but no shoes, tattered pantaloons,
and a ripped white shirt, he can’t be more than thirteen years old.
“This is for your own protection,” Harris says as he swings the
cell door shut.
“Do those words ease your conscience?”
“You rushed the gallows,” Harris says. “You assaulted my men.
You should be grateful I don’t lock you up for a year.”
Spea k ers

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 15

of th e

Dead

15

12/16/15 10:39 PM

Whitman stands strong and tall until the sheriff is out of sight,
then doubles over in grief. He is surrounded by stone and one window, less than a square foot in size and set above eye level, the only
break.
The boy catches him eyeing the window. “There’s no way out,”
he says. “Believe me, I’ve tried.”
Walt sinks to the floor. He cannot escape this situation, nor his
own grief. Lena is gone forever from this world, and he’ll never sit
across the table from her or A
­ braham—​­no more conversing into
the late hours of the night, no more comparing their readings of
Emerson, or listening to Abraham and Lena discuss Oliver Wendell Holmes’s latest précis on hygiene and disease.
The boy asks, “You tried to stop the hanging?”
“Of an innocent woman.”
“No offense, mister, but she had good reason to kill her husband after what he did to the cigar girl.”
The boy’s version of events matches popular opinion: Abraham
Stowe had an affair with Mary Rogers, the pretty cigar store clerk.
She became pregnant, Abraham botched the abortion, and Rogers
died. Abraham panicked and tossed her body in the river. Lena
found out about the affair and abortion, and killed him. The State
of New York executed her. Done.
“I know what has been said about this matter, but the City of
New York has made a terrible error.”
The boy leans forward. “You couldn’t find proof that she didn’t
kill her husband, could you?”
“It’s an eventuality.”
“But she’s dead. Why not leave her be?”
Walt locks eyes with the boy. “The truth always matters.”
The boy does not pursue the topic further. Instead, he con-

16

J. A a ro n S a n d e r s

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 16

12/16/15 10:39 PM

fesses his own crime. “I was arrested for grave robbery.” The boy
pauses, then continues. “I tried to dig up the body of my neighbor, Mrs. Abernathy.”
Whitman tries to ignore him, but the boy persists. “Have you
ever dug a grave, mister?”
He shakes his head. “Of course not.”
“It ain’t as easy as you might think. The ground is frozen solid,
and it took me two hours to break up the dirt.” The boy stands,
pretends to dig. His movements are pained, but he perseveres. “I’m
shoveling and shoveling. How far down is she? I’m in the hole about
waist deep when I finally reach the casket. I’ll chip the lid off the casket
and slide her out that way. If I’m still at it by sunrise, I know I’ll end
up”—​­he flashes his biggest ­smile—“I know I’ll end up in jail.”
“The sheriff arrested you before you could sell the corpse?”
Walt presses, warming to his subject. He knows about the resurrection men and their grisly trade in dead bodies.
The boy shakes his head. “Mrs. Abernathy’s brothers were standing guard, looking out for folks like me. They’d slipped away for a
couple of pops, and when they returned, I had her nearly out.”
Walt understands this too about body snatching: The burden is
on the families to guard their loved ones’ ­bodies—​­whether by armed
guard or by technology. The Patent Coffin, for one, is made out of
wrought iron and lined with spring catches so the lid won’t open.
There are cages, straps, or even dead ­houses—​­places where loved ones
can leave the bodies safely until they are no longer good for dissection. Or, as in this case, the family itself might stand g­ uard—
Suddenly, Walt is concerned about the boy. His face shows no
sign of injury, but the way he ­moves—“And they roughed you up?”
The boy coughs.
Whitman joins the boy on the cot and reaches for his shirt. The

Spea k ers

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 17

of th e

Dead

17

12/16/15 10:39 PM

boy resists at first, but Walt reassures him with a soft look and a nod.
The bruises, deep browns and purples, cover his chest and back.
“Where are your parents?”
He pauses. “Dead, sir.”
Maybe Walt can give the boy a chance, bring him to the women’s college, where they’ll look after him until he’s recovered.
“I’m sorry for your loss, mister.”
Memories of Lena come unbidden, and Walt is flooded with
the awe he felt observing her medical lectures, Abraham always in
attendance. Her distinguished beauty matched her quick wit. Her
strong, confident voice would fill the room, and when the students’
questions inevitably came, she fielded them with a generous tone
and a precise logic.
And now he’s crying.
The boy slides close and wraps his scrawny arm around Walt’s
neck. “It’s okay, mister. My mother used to tell me that death is
not the end but a start to something better, something glorious.
Do you believe that too?”
Whitman considers himself a deist with Quaker leanings, a
man who believes that death is a curvature of the ringed self, all
part of a larger cycle of comings and goings, that the mind and
soul are eternal. But the tragedy of Lena’s and Abraham’s untimely
deaths has undercut these beliefs. For now, he will have to rely on
the boy’s faith. “I do believe that,” Walt says. “Absolutely.”
“We’re all right, then, the two of us,” the boy says.
A clatter of footsteps sounds in the hallway. The key clanks,
the chamber turns, and the heavy iron cell door opens to reveal a
young man whose sculpted cheekbones and square jawline are
framed by dark s­ houlder-​­length hair. His l­ow-​­crown top hat tilts
rakishly toward a wilted pink boutonniere on his lapel.
“Henry?” Walt faces his past.
18

J. A a ro n S a n d e r s

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 18

12/16/15 10:39 PM

“You look terrible, Mr. Whitman.”
After a short courtship, the men had parted a few years ­earlier—​
­Henry bound to his family farm in northern Manhattan, and Walt
to teach school in Brooklyn. They had promised to write letters,
and while Walt had written several, Henry had written none.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m your new boss at the Aurora,” Henry says, leaning on his
chestnut walking stick. “And Mr. Ropes sent me here to bail you
out.”
Walt rises to shake Henry Saunders’s h
­ and—​­his skin is soft and
his grip strong. “I’m grateful,” he says, “but the only way I’m coming with you is if you bail out my friend here, Mr.—” He turns to
the boy.
“Smith.” The boy stands despite the pain. “Azariah Smith.”

Spea k ers

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 19

of th e

Dead

19

12/16/15 10:39 PM

Chapter 3

W

alt follows the coroner, Dr. Kenneth Barclay, down a long
white hallway that opens up to a makeshift morgue. Once
inside, Dr. Barclay removes the sheet with all the flair of P. T.
Barnum revealing an exhibition.
Walt gulps back tears.
Lena’s dark eyes are open, her mouth twisted halfway between
a smile and a scream. Walt attempts to close both her eyes and
­jaw—​­her skin is cold and ­greasy—​­but they won’t stay shut.
“I’m afraid that’s physically impossible.” Barclay places his hand
on Walt’s. “I could have had the body delivered to spare you this
sight.”
Whitman backs away. “I made a promise.”
“Very well. I’ll need just a moment with her.”
The coroner reviews the autopsy report, comparing his notes
to the body, spending most of his time in the neck area. “I knew
the Stowes well.” Barclay breaks the silence. “Abe was my col-

20

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 20

12/16/15 10:39 PM

league at NYU. He and Lena invited me to dine with them several times. I admired them greatly.”
Barclay waits for Walt to respond. He doesn’t.
“I could have never imagined it, Lena killing Abraham.” Barclay
glances up from his work. “But after what he did to Mary ­Rogers—”
“They are innocent.”
“Innocent? Oh, Mr. Whitman, we must face the truth.”
“What do you know about the truth?”
“I saw Abe with Mary Rogers,” Barclay says. “And she was only
one of many women Abe seduced, his students among them.” Barclay forces eye contact. “What Lena did breached morality, but
she was driven to the brink. Abe betrayed her with woman after
woman, and then the Mary Rogers affair?”
“She didn’t kill him.” Walt gathers himself, recalling Lena’s
vow to preserve her marriage in spite of her husband’s infidelity:
We are stronger now than before.
Barclay folds the autopsy folder shut, puts his finger to his chin.
“Jealously is powerful motivation.” He packs his pipe with tobacco,
lights it, takes a puff. “At first, Mr. Whitman, I too believed she was
innocent.” Pipe smoke laces the frigid air. “But I examined the
evidence. Abraham becomes involved with this Mary Rogers. She
gets pregnant. He administers the abortion. Something goes
wrong and she dies. So what does he do? He bludgeons her
body  to  make it look like murder and dumps her in the river.”
Barclay takes another puff, then blows the sweet tobacco smoke in
Walt’s face. “Gruesome.”
Whitman stanches the verbal assault: “Abraham did not kill
Mary Rogers, and Lena did not kill Abraham, and I will prove it.”
Barclay scoffs. “You will prove it? What can you possibly know
that the sheriff has not already investigated?”

Spea k ers

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 21

of th e

Dead

21

12/16/15 10:39 PM

Walt shoots back, “The sheriff is not infallible.”
“How do you explain the arsenic found on Lena, the same
arsenic that killed Abraham?”
“Obviously, I cannot, or she wouldn’t be dead on your table.”
“Crimes,” Barclay says, placing his hand on Lena’s shoulder,
“are not sensible. That quality is for writers like Mr. Poe to explore
in his stories. Poor, poor Lena.” The coroner traces his finger along
her stomach. “And her poor child.”
“That is enough!” Walt grabs Barclay by the collar and lifts him
off the ground. “Is Mrs. Stowe’s body ready?”
Barclay nods, a twinge of fear in his eyes.
“Good.” Whitman drops the coroner to the floor. “Because I
wish to take leave of this place.”

22

J. A a ro n S a n d e r s

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 22

12/16/15 10:39 PM

Chapter 4

W

alt Whitman drives the h
­ orse-​­pulled flatbed freight wagon
he borrowed from Dr. Liston, Abraham Stowe’s colleague
at New York University, through the hundreds of New Yorkers
who have lined the route to the Women’s Medical College of
Manhattan. Men, women, and children of all social classes, craning for a glimpse of the body. They are eerily silent now, and Walt
fights back the urge to tell them they are partially responsible for
his friend’s death.
He directs the horses onto Centre Street, leaving the white light
of the gas lamps and the parade of New Yorkers behind. Poorer
streets like these are marked by the absence of light. And sound.
The Broadway omnibuses are barely audible from a few streets
over, the drivers preferring to remain where the money flows.
The Women’s Medical College of Manhattan comes into view,
and along with it the protestors. A group of twenty or so gathered
in front of the college the day after Abraham’s murder and has
since grown into the hundreds. Their leader, the antidissectionist
23

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 23

12/16/15 10:39 PM

Father Allen, stretches his arms toward the sky like some Old
Testament prophet: “Dissection stops the resurrection!”
Whitman has met the opportunist priest before, and has observed
his skill at wielding human vulnerability, drawing on the fear of a
public that believes a dissected corpse cannot rise from the dead.
Walt assesses the mood of the crowd, recalling that only a month
ago, a mob in New Haven burned down the medical school lab and
lynched one of the young medical students.
The college is housed in a b­ lack-​­shingled ­granite-​­slab building
accessible by a wooden staircase that leads to a porch. Just over the
­second-​­floor door, a single window stares like an eyeball. He recalls
his first visit to the college a year earlier for an article in the New
World, and how he got along with the Stowes straight away. They
welcomed him in like family, and it was as if he had known them
for years. He half expects Abraham and Lena to emerge in the
entryway right now, holding hands, as they always did.
Walt steers the wagon right into the midst of the protestors,
and stops in front of the stairs.
With Lena in his arms, Whitman keeps an eye on the priest,
who at the crucial moment gestures his followers to remove their
hats, bow their heads, and make way for him. A sliver of humanity in the madness.
Walt nods his gratitude as he passes.
Once inside the college, his eyes adjust to the gaslight shining
from each corner of what was once a dining room. Anatomical
drawings on butcher paper hang from the walls over rows of chairs
and desks.
He carries Lena past the bar turned lectern, the chalkboard
behind it, and the dangling skeleton. To get into the dissection
room, he has to walk underneath the sign painted in blue script: She
must mangle the living, if she has not operated on the dead.
24

J. A a ro n S a n d e r s

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 24

12/16/15 10:39 PM

Walt lays Lena on the very dissection table where only two
weeks earlier Abraham was murdered. He straightens the tarp so
that it covers her from the shoulders down. A wave of emotion hits
him, and he wipes his eyes with a handkerchief. He needs to be
strong for the students.
Upstairs the students begin to stir. Whitman can’t bear the
thought of them seeing their instructor’s lifeless body. They appear
on the landing, one by one, each of them wearing the same black
dress and white apron as Lena. They approach, place a hand lovingly on their teacher, their faces haggard and raw.
He knows each of them by name. Marie Zakrzewska, or Miss
Zacky as the other students call her, is from Berlin. An ethereal
redhead, she escaped a pogrom that killed her parents, two sisters,
and three brothers, then she studied medicine in Europe and, as a
midwife, ran a maternity ward in Switzerland. It was her dream to
learn from the Stowes.
­Blond-​­haired and ­blue-​­eyed Karina Emsbury, from Hartford,
was disowned by her pastor father for studying medicine, then connected to Abraham and Lena through her school’s headmistress and
Abraham’s cousin, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Olive Perschon, short
and mousy, from Philadelphia, is the daughter of abolitionist parents supportive of her medical aspirations. And Patricia Onderdonk, a tall, powerful woman from the Netherlands who claims to
have been orphaned in a coastal flood.
Elizabeth Blackwell, the Stowes’ most loyal supporter and
handpicked successor, breaks the silent procession. “This is madness.” She shakes her head, squeezes her hands into fists, her British heritage evident in every syllable. “How could they?” She
clenches her square jaw and thin lips. Her dark hair is pulled in a
tight bun at the back of her head. Miss Blackwell will display her
determination but never her devastation in front of her students.
Spea k ers

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 25

of th e

Dead

25

12/16/15 10:39 PM

Walt and Miss Blackwell will keep the medical college going.
The students need Elizabeth to be strong. So Whitman takes her
by the hand, and they form a prayer circle around the body. Our
Father who art in heaven, he begins, and for once he lets someone
else’s words do what his own simply cannot.
When the last of the amens has echoed through the chamber,
he steps back. Watching grief seize their young faces and shatter
their confidence, he vows to honor the family circle Abraham and
Lena provided for them here at the college.
As they had done for him.
He wants to stand on the table, call them to arms. We will fix this
injustice, we will storm the city, crash their homes, shout from the rooftops.
His army, these strong young women and their new leader, Elizabeth Blackwell. But now is not the time. He will stand down, he
will let them cry, and he too will cry.
Miss Blackwell joins him at the back of the room. “Your friend,
young Mr. Smith, is resting upstairs,” she says. “We blocked off a
corner for him.”
“Thank you,” Whitman says. “How are his injuries?”
“I’m afraid his internal organs may be severely damaged,” Elizabeth says. “I gave him a dose of laudanum to help him rest.”
Walt says, “I’ll look in on him later.”
“He said he has no family.”
Whitman nods.
Elizabeth shakes her head. “Poor dear.”
Behind them, a distraught Karina Emsbury throws herself across
Lena. The other students blanch at this naked display of grief.
Amidst the jumble of emotion, Miss Zacky approaches Walt.
“Your wrists.” She takes his hands into hers. “They’re bleeding.” She
slides up his coat sleeves and examines the long scrapes from the
handcuffs, rubbed raw and bleeding. “We need to clean and dress
26

J. A a ro n S a n d e r s

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 26

12/16/15 10:39 PM

these.” Miss Zakrzewska has become Elizabeth’s most reliable help,
though their styles of practice diverge. She touches where Elizabeth
withdraws from physical contact. She knows the power of her
beauty, bewitching others with her penetrating gaze.
Walt says, “I tried to save ­her—” Flashes of Lena on the platform intervene, the hood, the noose, the floor dropping away, and
he grits his teeth in agony.
“We know.” Miss Zacky pulls him close, wraps her arms
around his neck. It feels good to be held like this, as Henry used
to hold him, and in that moment he needs her, and so he presses
up against her even more, holding tight.

Spea k ers

9780143128717_SpeakersOf_TX_p1-312.indd 27

of th e

Dead

27

12/16/15 10:39 PM

THE 

M I R R O R 
T H I E F
A NOV E L

M A R TIN SE AY

THE MIRROR THIEF
Copyright © 2016 by Martin Seay
First Melville House Printing: May 2016
Melville House Publishing
8 Blackstock Mews
46 John Street and Islington
Brooklyn, NY 11201
London N4 2BT
mhpbooks.com

facebook.com/mhpbooks

@melvillehouse

ISBN: 978-1-61219-514-8
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
A catalog record for this book is available from
the Library of Congress

PRE PA R AT IO
MAY 20, 1592

And seeing in the Water a shape, a shape like unto himself, in
himself he loved it, and would cohabit with it; and immediately
upon the resolution ensued the Operation, and brought forth the
unreasonable Image or Shape.
Nature presently laying hold of what it so much loved, did
wholly wrap herself about it, and they were mingled, for they
loved one another.
—Pimander

23
The acolyte lights the candles as the priest opens the book. The long wicks
flare, and the image of the Virgin appears in the vault above the apse, her
gray form steady against the flickering screen of gold. The glass tesserae of
her eyes catch the dim light, and her gaze seems to go everywhere.
The priest’s hand moves across the psalter; its thick pages curl and
fall. Venite exultemus Domino iubilemus Deo salutari nostro, he intones.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise
unto him with psalms. At the priest’s back are the relics of Saint Donatus,
along with the bones of the dragon he slew by spitting in its mouth. Overhead, the wooden roof slopes outward like a ship’s hull.
Even now, hours before dawn, the basilica is not empty. Solitary figures pass in the aisles: sleepless fishermen, glassblowers between shifts,
veiled widows impatient for Christ’s return. Some kneel and mutter
prayers. In the narthex, at the base of a marble column, a lone drunkard
snores.
At the south end of the shallow transept a man drifts along the uneven floor. His steps are cautious, slow, measured by the soft tap of his
walkingstick. His downcast eyes trace images on the mosaic floor: eagles
and griffins, cockerels bearing a trussed fox, peacocks eating from a chalice. Beneath the clean flames of the beeswax candles the patterned checks
of porphyry and serpentine blend into a fluid surface, undulating and
unfathomable. The man lifts his black morocco boots like a heron hunting frogs.
Picture him there, between the piers of the old brick church: gaunt
and sinewy, around thirty-five years old, wearing the long black robe of a

172

M A R T IN SE AY

Bolognese doctor. His small forked beard is trimmed close, his red-blond
hair cropped a bit shorter than is the current fashion. He is somewhat less
filthy, less flea- and louse-ridden, than those he moves among. His velvet
cap and brocade jerkin are rich but not ostentatious. His worn lopsided
face suggests a difficult birth and many misfortunes suffered since. There
is a strangeness to his aspect, a detachment, that those who meet him tend
to ascribe to his erudition, or to his many years spent abroad, although in
doing so they are mistaken.
The sea is his, and he made it, chants the priest. His hands formed
the dry land. Mist rises from the canal outside, wedding the ocean to the
darkness, bearing a chill through the heavy wooden doors. The blackrobed man shivers, turns to go.
Let this be him, then. Crivano, the Mirror Thief. Let him bear the
name. Who else can claim it?

24
As he crosses the threshold, Crivano can hear the Te Deum echoing from
the convent of Saint Mark and Saint Andrew, two hundred yards north.
A bright halfmoon lingers in the western sky; beneath it, the Campo San
Donato is all but deserted. In the distance, across the wide canal, torches
light the path of a procession as it leaves the new Trevisan house. By the
entrance of the baptistery just ahead yawning linkboys trade taunts with
a pair of rude commoners, watchmen of the Ministry of Night. Crivano
raises his stick as he descends the church steps, and one of the boys puts a
taper to his wrought-iron lantern. Here’s your light, dottore, the boy says.
I’m looking for a ridotto called the Salamander.
Sure, dottore. It’s across the long bridge, near San Pietro Martire. Do
you want to get a boat?
I’ll walk, Crivano says.

THE MIRROR THIEF

173

They cross the square and follow the canal south, then turn west
when it merges into a broader channel. A gap in the buildings widens toward the lagoon, and for a moment Crivano can see the lights of the city,
over a mile away: weak glimmers from the Arsenal, and further on the
orange blaze atop the belltower in the Piazza. The sea is calm. A few boats
are already on the water, bearing lanterns in their prows, and he wonders
whether Obizzo’s craft is among them.
The wide fondamenta grows busier as they approach the long bridge.
Merchants hurry to boats moored at quayside, bearing bundles or pushing carts laden with bronzeware and majolica and spindled glass beads,
eager to cross the lagoon to their booths in the Piazza San Marco before
the festival crowds gather. A week ago, when Crivano last came here to
Murano to meet with his co-conspirators, he found many shops along
this canal closed for the Sensa, having moved their business into the city.
Meanwhile, in the Rialto, the guilds had to cajole and bully their members to abandon their storefronts and show their wares in the Piazza. The
guilds’ case seemed difficult to make. When your whole city is a market,
why bother with the fair?
From the bridge’s lofty midpoint Crivano can see a tremble in the air
over the buildings ahead: heat rising from glass factories. Once lit, their
furnaces burn at a constant temperature for weeks on end, even months.
The boats below the bridge are stacked with hewn alderwood, soon to be
unloaded.
The linkboy leads him past a church, then into a bustling campiello. The workers they pass are flush-faced and soot-blackened; their eyes
are red-rimmed and hard, like they’ve come lately from battle. Near the
campiello’s wellhead a workman is beating and cursing another, pounding heavy fists on his skull and shoulders. The attacker wears a thick bandage on his forearm; the man he strikes is little more than a boy. When
the young man falls, his assailant kicks him until his nose and mouth are
well-bloodied. Then a pair of stout fellows steps in and halfheartedly pulls
them apart.
Here, dottore, the linkboy says. The Salamander.

174

M A R T IN SE AY

Crivano gives him a few copper gazettes and sends him on his way.
No sign marks the building: an ordinary two-story shop, its shutters
replaced by rectangles of clear aqua glass, firelight falling through the
drapes behind them. There’s another window set in the door, this one
stained a startling orange, with a translucent red lizard wriggling at its
center. The door swings open with a touch.
He’s not sure what to expect inside—knife-wielding gamblers, barebosomed whores—but it’s a quiet place: a large room lit by oil lamps with
a hearth at the far end; an old woman and what must be her grown son
at work behind a long wooden counter; a ceiling hung thickly with game,
sausages, cured hams. In the corner a young man strums a cittern, singing wordlessly. A halfdozen or so laborers are scattered across eight tables,
dining or sipping cups of wine. Crivano spots the two he’s looking for
right away, but stands empty-faced in the entrance until the old woman
comes for his stick and robe.
Would you care for soup, dottore? We have good sausage, too. And a
pheasant.
Just wine.
Crivano seats himself at an empty table. After a moment, the glassmaker Serena appears at his elbow, his hat in his hand. Dottore, he says.
Maestro. Will you join me?
Thank you, dottore. Please allow me to present my eldest son, Alexandro.
The boy is twelve or thirteen, with a serious face. He already bears
small scars on his hands and forearms from the furnaces. His bow is dignified and respectful. His eyes are a man’s eyes. Crivano thinks briefly of
his own youth: when he and the Lark left Cyprus for Padua, they were this
boy’s age. He doubts greatly that either was so poised.
You help your father in the workshop? Crivano says.
Yes, dottore.
He also studies with the Augustinians, Serena says. He’s a good student.
Serena musses the boy’s chestnut hair with his broad right hand. His

THE MIRROR THIEF

175

first three fingers lack their tips; each ends abruptly with a variegated
whorl of scar tissue. Crivano hadn’t noticed this before. Do you enjoy
your studies, Alexandro? he asks the boy.
No, dottore.
Serena laughs. He’d rather be working the glass, he says. He thinks
the lessons are worthless. Sometimes I agree. The friars make him learn
Latin, and the language of court. Why? Better for a tradesman to learn
English, don’t you think? Or Dutch.
As he says this, Serena gives Crivano a pointed look that makes him
uneasy. Well, maestro, Crivano says, those are the languages of the nobility. And tradesmen want to sell to the nobility. Is this not so?
Tradesmen want to sell to those with access to money and markets,
Serena says. Like the English. And the Dutch.
As Serena settles into the chair his son pulls out for him, Crivano
steals a glance across the room. The silverer Verzelin hasn’t moved from
his spot by the fire. He’s slumped forward, his head on the table. Crivano
knows him by the tremors in his legs.
Serena has placed a parcel on the oak planks. Those sketches you gave
me were very good, dottore, he says. Very clear and detailed.
Yes. I didn’t make them.
Serena smiles. My compliments, then, to your friend’s draughtsmanship, he says. He leans forward. I understand why your friend wants to
remain in the shadows, he says. This kind of work—not everyone will do
it. Not these days.
You don’t want the job?
I’ll do the job, dottore. But I’ll have to choose my help with care. As
you’ve seen, there has been—how to put it?—an increase in piety throughout the patriarchate. Piety of a particular sort. And all of us praise God
for this, of course. But often we’re surprised to find practices once thought
merely eccentric now being decried as heresy. I see this happen in my own
workshop. So I must be cautious. For this piece, of course, we also need a
metalworker who can be trusted. Fortunately I know of one.
Crivano nods. He has opened his mouth to reply when a yelp comes

176

M A R T IN SE AY

from near the hearth; Verzelin is upright in his chair. He jerks his head
left and right, barking gibberish, then slouches to the table again. The cittern player shoots a quick look at him, but never breaks time.
He’s drunk? Crivano says.
He’s mad.
Crivano looks at Serena, doing his best to feign surprise.
Serena shrugs. It happens to them sometimes, he says.
To whom?
To the silverers. They go mad. No one knows why. Runs in their families, I suppose.
Crivano looks at Verzelin again. He’s rolling his forehead back and
forth across the wood, spilling his wine. Can he still work? Crivano asks.
As if this concern has only now occurred to him.
Serena is silent for a moment. Then he flips aside the folds of white
cotton that envelop the parcel before him.
The gesture seems to uncover a hole cut through the tabletop. Leaning forward, Crivano expects to see Serena’s legs, but his eyes find instead
the exposed beams of the ceiling—and then a face, his own, with terrible
clarity. He puts a hand on the table’s edge to keep his balance.
Go on, dottore. Pick it up.
Crivano slips his slender fingers beneath the cloth and lifts the mirror
to his face. It’s about a foot long, several inches across, rounded at the corners, in precise accordance with Tristão’s sketch. The glass is perfectly flat,
uniformly thick and clear. Crivano tilts it toward the firelight to check the
silvering and finds no blemishes. A dancing ghost-light appears across the
room, on the wall above the hearth, and then vanishes when he tilts the
glass back.
Verzelin made this? Crivano asks.
Serena smoothes his thick beard, watching Verzelin with weary eyes.
Made it, he says, or caused it to be made.
It’s remarkable. Flawless.
Nearly so, yes.
Is the glass that your shop makes so clear?

THE MIRROR THIEF

177

Serena grunts. Even clearer, dottore, he says. If I want it to be. But if
you ask me, which I admit you did not, I’d tell you that this glass is too
clear. Your friend had better keep the damp off it, or in a year or two—
He makes a flatulent sound with his mouth.
—it’s gone. Melted away like a fancy sweet. Very clear glass cannot
abide moisture, dottore. Your friend should keep this wrapped in dried
seaweed, always. For what he’s paying he should make it last.
Crivano is barely listening, staring at his own face. Like every gentleman, he owns a small steel mirror, and over the years it has taught him to
recognize himself. But this glass has made it a liar. He sees himself now
as others see him, have always seen him: the shape of his head, the way
his expression changes, the space his body fills in a room. He scans the
map of damage written across his face and wonders how much can be
deciphered: the divot in his jaw from a janissary arrow, the ear notched in
Silistra by a whore’s hidden razor, the front tooth chipped by the boot of
a Persian onbashı in the instant before the musket went off. With a quick
intake of breath Crivano replaces the cloth and pushes the parcel back
toward Serena. How long to attach the frame? he asks.
Not long. No more than a day.
My friend won’t need it so quickly.
Once it’s finished, Serena says with a sad smile, I don’t want it in my
shop.
He reaches into his tunic—good fabric, Crivano notices, and fairly
clean—and produces a rectangle of white paper, folded and closed with a
blue wax seal bearing the device of the Siren, his family’s shop. Give this
to your friend, he says. It’s my estimate, along with a list of alterations I’ve
made to his design. If any are unacceptable, I must be informed prior to
sundown tomorrow. Otherwise I’ll complete the piece.
Crivano takes the paper, tucks it into his own doublet. There’s a
commotion: Verzelin is on his feet, staggering. The man with the cittern
angles away, ignoring him, pretending to tune his strings. Christ! Verzelin shouts, followed by something Crivano can’t make out. A thread of
phlegm dangles from his beard, golden in the firelight. Crivano sees a pair

178

M A R T IN SE AY

of dark stains on the table Verzelin left. The smaller is spilled wine; the
larger, he realizes, is saliva.
Verzelin walks toward them, lurching spasmodically at every other
step. He walks among us, brothers! he hisses. He’s pointing at Crivano.
Promises! Promises! Promises of deliverance!
Crivano keeps his eyes steady. The front of Verzelin’s shirt is soaked
with sweat and drool. Amazing, Crivano thinks: all those hours at the
furnaces, and still so much phlegm. Surely he’s incurable now. Still, best
not to take chances.
Verzelin shapes his words with effort, seeming to gag on them. I have
called! he says. I am his prophet! The peacock, he’s a holy bird, isn’t he a holy
bird? He walks our streets! Follow him, brothers!
He’s out the door, gone. Crivano tenses, tries to keep the strain off his
face.
That, Serena says, is not quite the sort of piety I was talking about.
I should speak with him.
Not much of a point, dottore.
I have his payment. For the mirror.
I’ll pay him for the mirror, dottore. You pay me for the finished piece.
Serena looks at Crivano with narrowed eyes, like he’s an imbecile,
but Crivano is already rising to his feet. I’ll return to collect the piece in
two days, he says. Send word to me in the city if the project is delayed. I’m
lodged at the White Eagle.
It takes Crivano a moment to pay for his wine and to retrieve his robe
and stick. By the time he’s muttered his valedictions and returned to the
campiello, Verzelin is nowhere to be seen. He can’t have gotten far in his
condition, but which way? Crivano looks for the linkboy who brought
him here, but the boy has moved on. He could ask anyone else, of course,
but he doesn’t want to leave more of a trail than necessary.
He opts to turn right, down the Street of the Glassmakers. It’s long
and straight and brightly lit—by glazed lanterns hung over doors, and
also from within, by the white-hot furnaces—and edged along its lefthand side by a small canal choked with boats. If Verzelin came this way,

THE MIRROR THIEF

179

he’ll be no trouble to spot.
Crivano hurries forward, his walkingstick clutched by his side. He
notes the brightly colored insignia of the shops he passes: an angel, a siren,
a dragon, a cockerel devouring a worm. The shutters are all opened, the
wares are on display, and more than once he’s startled by the image of his
own anxious face.

25
A hundred yards down the fondamenta, just past a small fishmarket, Verzelin sways in front of the Motta mirrorworks, the shop that employs him,
bellowing at his colleagues inside. The shop’s racks and shutters are a gallery of silvered panels—ovals and circles and rectangles, pocket-sized or
inches across, with frames of inlaid wood or wrought metal or chalcedony
glass—and they render him in fragments: his hollow chest, his twisted
limbs, the silent O of his shouting mouth.
I’ve caught the Lord! he says. I have, I have, we all have! But what’s the
good of catching if you never follow? No one in the shop comes to the windows; passersby give him wide berth. The bricks at his feet are spritzed
with white foam.
Crivano watches from a short distance up the quay. This is better, he
thinks: better that he and Verzelin left the Salamander separately, and
better that he’s had time to think. By now Obizzo will have moored the
boat; he’ll be nearby, half a mile at most. The question is how to move Verzelin in the right direction. Crivano dealt with too many madmen during
his years in Bologna to believe himself capable of anticipating their actions, but he has an intuition about this one, and no better ideas.
He saunters forward, giving the mirrormaker an empty stare. Verzelin goes silent, his febrile eyes returning Crivano’s gaze, his lean bearded
face a riot of tics and twitches. Then Crivano walks past him, carrying on

180

M A R T IN SE AY

down the fondamenta, the iron ferrule of his stick clicking sharply on the
pavement.
Confounded, Verzelin discharges a spate of rapid gibberish, unintelligible and bestial, and Crivano picks up his pace. There’s an opening on
the right: the Street of the Potters. He makes the turn. Another glassworks
here, along with two osterie and a lusterware factory; the other shops are
dark and shuttered. Halfway down the block, Crivano steps into the recessed doorway of a mercer and waits.
Verzelin isn’t far behind. With each step, his body angles left; he corrects himself like a ship beating to windward. The few people on the street
hasten from his path. He murmurs as he comes. The peacock, he says, he’s
a holy bird, a holy bird, a holy bird.
Crivano steps into the open; the moonlight catches him. Verzelin, he
says.
Verzelin blinks, squints. Dottore? he says. Dottore Crivano?
Yes. I’m here.
I conjured you, Verzelin says. I called you from the glass.
We must go, Verzelin. Do you understand? We must leave Murano
tonight.
Verzelin stares without comprehension, then squeezes his eyes shut
and shakes his head, like a child who’s tasted raw onion.
Listen to me. The guild and the Council of Ten have learned of our
intentions. The sbirri are looking for you right now. There’s a boat nearby
waiting to take us to Chioggia, but we must hurry.
Verzelin grimaces, stares at his shuffling feet. In his expression Crivano can see an army of fleeting impulses being enveloped by profound
weariness. I will follow, Verzelin mutters. I have looked. In the glass.
What I have seen. And I will follow.
Crivano finds a dry spot on Verzelin’s upper sleeve and tugs it to urge
him along. There’s a wide square ahead—early-rising merchants’ wives
filling pails at the well—and they angle away from it, following the curve
of the street until they’re parallel to the glassmakers’ canal. Potters are at
work nearby, singing a maudlin song about a drowned sailor, but he and

THE MIRROR THIEF

181

Verzelin have the pavement to themselves.
Crivano speaks softly and rapidly, reminding Verzelin of what they’re
doing and why. From Chioggia we’ll sail to Ragusa, he whispers. In Ragusa an English cog will be waiting to take us to Amsterdam. We’ll be
there in three weeks, God willing. And the guild’s prayers to Saint Anthony will be very fervent this year, I think.
Don’t want, Verzelin says, don’t want to go to Amsterdam. Heretics!
Full of heretics, it is.
Well, you’ll have to convert them all, won’t you, Alegreto?
Verzelin’s tremors have faded, but his feet are dragging, and his voice
is blunted by his dripping mouth. Can’t work, he says. Lift the glass. Not
anymore. My hands, dottore! My hands!
Crivano wraps his fingers around Verzelin’s arm, glances ahead. He
can see the lagoon now, and the quiet fondamenta where Obizzo is to
have moored the boat. You won’t have to work the glass in Amsterdam,
Crivano says, pulling him forward. They’ve found good workers for you
there. Experienced men. You need only teach them to apply the silvering.
I am afflicted, Verzelin moans. I have seen! There is no time, no time.
Have you? Do you follow?
Of course, maestro, Crivano says. Of course I do.
Shutters open on a shop to the left, but Crivano doesn’t look back.
I have caught him! Verzelin whispers, clutching Crivano’s hand. In my
glass! I have, I have caught. Hold a mirror up to Christ, dottore! Is that
not the Second Coming? Have you seen, dottore? Have you? What good is
it to witness, if you never tell?
They’ve reached the fondamenta. The lagoon is before them, black
and limitless, with a scattering of lanterns across its surface, a careful
thread of light that joins the mainland to the Grand Canal. From nearby
buildings issue snores, muffled voices, the sound of a couple fucking, but
no one is afoot. A hundred yards south along the quay is a stand of hollyoaks; Crivano spots a white rag draped over one of the lower limbs. Come
on, he whispers, pulling Verzelin’s arm. Quickly.
I worked so hard, Verzelin says. So hard. Now I see. The peacock, he’s

182

M A R T IN SE AY

a holy bird, dottore. Just count the eyes on his tail.
Crivano takes a moment to scan windows and balconies, but no one
seems to be watching them. They’re almost to the trees. On the quay before them, two kittens are picking at the discarded head of a small mullet;
aside from them and the water, nothing moves. Crivano lets Verzelin step
ahead, then puts a gentle hand on his back.
The draped branch points to a palina where Obizzo’s small black
sandolo is moored. Obizzo has removed the passengers’ chairs from his
boat; there’s a wadded sheet of sackcloth in the bare hull, partly covering
a coil of hemp cord and an irregular block of limestone. Obizzo himself
is hunched in the stern, hidden under a broad-brimmed hat and a shabby
greatcoat. As Crivano and Verzelin draw even with the bow, he stands
and scrambles forward.
Verzelin gasps, stops in his tracks. Even in his blighted state he recognizes Obizzo at once. You, he says.
Crivano lifts his walkingstick crosswise in both hands and drives it
against the base of Verzelin’s skull. Verzelin’s head pops forward, he staggers, and Crivano slips the stick under his chin, laying it across his neck
just above the thyroid cartilage. Then he tucks the right end of the stick
behind his own head, levers it back with his left arm, and crushes Verzelin’s larynx.
Verzelin struggles, clawing the air, and Crivano catches his right
wrist with his free hand to wrench it immobile. Obizzo has Verzelin’s legs;
he twists them, grimacing fiercely, as if Verzelin is a forked green sapling
he’s trying to snap in two. Held off the ground, Verzelin writhes, grasping at nothing with his unbound left arm. There’s a dull pop—a femoral
head dislocating from an acetabulum—and Verzelin’s body goes heavy
and slack.
Like Antaeus, Crivano thinks. He holds on awhile longer, certain that
the stick is tight across the carotid artery. Many years have passed since he
last did this. He thinks about those other men—the touch and the smell
of them, the sound of their interrupted breath—as he waits for Verzelin
to die.

THE MIRROR THIEF

183

Come on, come on, damn it! Obizzo whispers. His hat has fallen; he
retrieves it, puts it on backward, turns it around, watching the lights in
the nearby buildings with stray-dog eyes. Every soul in Murano would
know him at a glance.
All right, Crivano says. Take his legs.
They put Verzelin’s body in the bottom of the hull and hide it with
sackcloth. Crivano wraps the cord around the torso—both legs, both
shoulders, a double-loop at the waist—and ties it with a surgeon’s knot.
Obizzo is in the stern, his long oar at the ready. That’s enough, dottore, he says. Get out and cast me off.
Crivano springs to the quay and plucks at the dockline. Be certain to
put him in the water at San Nicolò, he says. Sink him in the channel. If the
cord breaks, he should float out to sea.
When will I hear from you?
Crivano loops the line and drops it into the sandolo’s bow. I’ll find
you in the Rialto, he says.
When?
Crivano doesn’t answer. He watches Obizzo bring the small boat
about. The sleeves of Obizzo’s coat slide back when he lifts his oar, baring his thick forearms, and Crivano wonders what wild canards he tells
his passengers to explain the burns that mottle his furnace-roasted skin.
After a few long strokes and an angry backward glare, Obizzo fades into
the dark.
The insipid honking of geese comes from somewhere overhead. Crivano looks for the pale undersides of wings, but finds none. When the sky
grows quiet again, he pulls the white linen from the holly-oak branch,
wipes Verzelin’s spittle from his gown and stick, and throws the damp
cloth into the lagoon. Then he rounds the point and returns to the Street
of the Glassmakers, following it back across the long bridge, studying the
shop windows along the way.
His locanda is on the Ruga San Bernardo: lively by day, quiet at night,
with no lock on its outer door and stairs to the lodgers’ rooms directly off
the foyer. The widow who runs the place will hear him come in, but she

184

M A R T IN SE AY

won’t remember the hour. He bolts his door and rests his head against its
wood and breathes deeply, conscious of the gallop of his pulse. Then he
lights the clay lamp on the little table, hangs his clothes on the pegs beside
the bed, and unties his purse.
Two pinches of basil snuff cool his blood, but he’ll stay awake until he
returns to the Rialto. He performs a few stretches that he remembers from
the palace school at Topkapı, then sits and breaks the blue wax on Serena’s
letter to Tristão. Unfolded, the outer layer of rag paper reveals a second
document with an identical seal; Crivano sets this aside. Then he flattens
the sheet that enclosed it, holds it over the lamp’s flame, and waits for the
hidden writing to appear.

`

Chapter One
Amy, 18 July 1995

Music thudded through Amy's body and seized her heart. Music so loud that her
eardrums pounded in frenzy and her baby bird ribs rattled. Music was everything. Well, almost
everything.
Later, the newspapers would call fifteen-year-old Amy Stevenson a "ray of sunshine",
with "everything to live for". Her headphones buzzed with rock and pop as she trudged the long
way home, rucksack sagging.
Amy had a boyfriend, Jake. He loved her and she loved him. They had been together for
nearly eight months, walking the romance route around the 'top field' at school during break
time, hot hand in hot hand, fast hearts synchronised.
Amy had two best friends: Jenny and Becky. The trio danced in a perpetual whirlpool of
back stories, competition and gossip. Dizzying trails of 'she-said-he-said-she-said' preceded
remorseful, sobbing hugs at the end of every drunken Saturday night.
Nights out meant lemon Hooch in the memorial park or Archers & Lemonade at The
Sleeper pub, where a five-year-old wouldn't have been IDed. Nights in meant My So Called Life
and Friends. After school, time ticked down to the 6pm phone calls once it hit the cheap rate.
She would talk until her step-dad, Bob, came into the dining room and gave her that look: it's
dinner time, get off my phone.

1

Amy's Kickers bag grew heavier with every step. She shifted it awkwardly to the other
shoulder, tangling her headphone wires so that one bud pinged out of her ear, the sounds of the
real world rushing in.
She had taken the long way home. The previous day she'd got back early and startled Bob
in the kitchen as he stirred Coffee Mate into his favourite mug. At first he'd smiled, opening his
arms for a hug before realising that she'd made it back in record time and must have gone across
the field.
She'd had to sit through half an hour of Bob's ranting and raving about walking the safe
route home, along the roads: "I'm saying this because I love you, Ames, we both love you and we
just want you to be safe."
Amy had listened, shuffled in her seat and stifled yawns. When he'd finally stopped, she'd
stomped upstairs, flopped onto her bed and smacked CD cases around as she made an angry mix
tape. Rage Against The Machine, Hole and Faith No More.
As she'd surprised Bob the day before, Amy knew he was likely to be home already.
Waiting to catch her and have another go at her. It wasn't worth the hassle even though the
longer walk was especially unwelcome on Tuesdays. Her bag was always really heavy as she had
French and History and both had stupid, massive textbooks.
Amy hated learning French with a passion, the teacher was a dick and who needs to give
a window a gender? But she liked the idea of knowing the language. French was a sexy
language. She imagined she could seduce someone a bit more sophisticated than Jake by
whispering something French in his ear. She could seduce someone older. Someone a lot older.

2

She loved Jake, of course, she meant it when she said it. She had his name carefully
stencilled onto her bag with a Tippex pen and when she imagined the future, he was in it. But
over the last few weeks she had begun to see the differences between them more and more.
Jake, with his wide smile and deep brown puppy-dog eyes, was so easy to spend time
with, so gentle. But in the time they'd been going out, he'd barely plucked up the courage to put
his hand inside her school shirt. They spent whole lunch hours kissing in the top field, and one
time he'd climbed on top of her but she'd got a dead leg and had to move and he was so flustered
he barely spoke for the rest of the day.
It had been months and months and she was still a virgin. It was getting embarrassing.
She hated the idea of being last, hated losing at anything.
Frustrations aside, Amy hoped Jake had skipped Judo club so he could come and meet
her. Jake and his younger brother, Tom, were driven home from school every day because his
snooty mum worked as the school secretary. His family lived in the double-fronted houses of
Royal Avenue. He was always back before Amy reached the two-bedroom terrace house in
Warlingham Road where she lived with Bob and her mum, Jo.
Jake's mum, Sue, didn't like Amy. It was like she saw her as someone who would corrupt
her precious baby. Amy liked the idea that she was some kind of scarlet woman. She liked the
idea of being any kind of woman.
Amy Stevenson had a secret. A secret that made her stomach lurch and her heart thump.
None of Amy's friends knew about her secret, and Jake certainly didn't know. Jake could never
know. Even Jake's mum, with her disapproving looks, would never have guessed.

3

Amy's secret was older. Absolutely, categorically a man. His shoulders were broader than
Jake's, his voice lower, and when he made rude remarks, they came from a mouth that had
earned the right to make them. He was tall and walked with confidence, never in a rush.
Her secret wore aftershave, not Lynx, and he drove a car, not a bike. Unlike Jake's sandy
curtains, he had thick, dark hair. A man's cut. She had seen through his shirts that there was dark
hair in the shallow dip at the centre of his chest. Her secret had a tall, dark shadow.
When Amy thought about him, her nerves exploded and her head filled with a bright
white sound that shut out any sense.
Her secret touched her waist like a man touches a woman. He opened doors for her,
unlike the boys in her class who bowled into corridors like silver balls in a pinball machine.
Her mum would call him "tall, dark and handsome". He didn't need to show off, didn't
need to boast. Not even the prettiest girls at school would have thought they stood a chance.
None of them knew that Amy stood more than a chance. Way more.
Amy knew that he would have to stay a secret, and a short-lived one at that. A comma in
her story, nothing more. She knew that she should keep it all locked in a box; perfect, complete,
private, totally separate from the rest of her soundtrack. It was already a memory, really. Months
from now she would still be snogging Jake at lunch time; bickering with her friends; coming up
with excuses for late homework. She knew that. She told herself she was cool with that.
The feeling Amy got when he touched her hip or brushed her hair out of her face was like
an electric bolt. Just the tips of his fingers made her flesh sing in a way that blocked out
everything else in the world. She was both thrilled and terrified by thoughts of what he could do
to her, what he would want her to do to him. Would they ever get the chance? Would she know
what to do if they did?
4

That kiss in the kitchen, with the sounds of the others right outside. His hands on her
face, a tickle of stubble that she'd never felt before. That one tiny kiss that kept her awake at
night.
Amy turned into Warlingham Road and the ritual began. She put her bag down on the
crumbly concrete wall. She unrolled the waistband of her skirt so it was no longer hitched up.
She decanted her things, finding her Charlie Red spray and cherry lip balm.
Amy shook the spray and let a short burst of sweet vapour fill the air. Then, after looking
around self-consciously, she stepped into the perfumed cloud, like she'd seen her mum do before
a night at the social club.
She ran the lip balm along her bottom lip, then the top, kissing them together and then
dabbing them matte with her jumper. On the off-chance that Jake was waiting, she wanted to be
ready, but not make it obvious that she'd tried.
Amy's Walkman continued to flood her ears. Do You Remember The First Time? by Pulp
kicked in and Amy smiled. Lead singer Jarvis Cocker smirked and winked in her ears as she set
everything back in the bag, shifted it to the other shoulder and started down the road.
She saw Bob's van in the road. Amy was twelve doors away from home. As she squinted,
she could make out a figure walking towards her.
She could tell from the way the figure walked - confident, upright, deliberate - that it
wasn't Jake. Jake skirmished around like a startled crab, half-running, half-walking. Amy could
tell from the figure's slim waist that it wasn't Bob, who was shaped like a little potato.
When Amy realised who it was she felt a rush of nausea.
Had anyone seen him?
Had Bob seen him?
5

How could he risk coming to the house?
Above everything, Amy felt a burst of exhilaration and adrenalin thrusting her towards
him like iron filings to a magnet.
Jarvis Cocker was still talking dirty in her ears, she wanted to make him stop but didn't
want to clumsily yank at her Walkman.
She held her secret's gaze, biting her lip as she clicked every button until she crunched
the right one down and the music stopped. They were toe to toe. He smiled and slowly reached
forward. He took one headphone, then the other from the side of her head. His fingers brushed
her ears. Amy swallowed hard, unsure of the rules.
"Hello, Amy," he said, still smiling. His green eyes twinkled, the lashes so dark they
looked wet. He reminded her of an old photo of John Travolta washing his face between takes on
Saturday Night Fever. It had been printed in one of her music magazines and while she thought
John Travolta was a bit of a nobhead, it was a very cool picture. She'd stuck it in her hardback
Art & Design sketch book.
"Hello..." she replied, in a voice a shade above a whisper.
"I have a surprise for you... get in." He gestured to his car - a Ford Escort the colour of a
fox - and opened the door grandly like a chauffeur.
Amy looked around, "I don't know if I should, my step-dad's probably watching."
As soon as her words were in the air, Amy heard a nearby front door, and ducked down
behind the Escort.
A little way up the pavement, Bob set his tool bag down with a grunt. He exhaled heavily
as he fumbled for his keys and opened his van. Unaware he was being watched, Bob lumped the
tool bag into the passenger seat and slammed the door with his heavy, hairy hands. He waddled
6

around to the driver's seat, heaved himself up and drove away with a crunch of gears, the back of
his van shaking like a wagging tail.
As excited as Amy was, as ready as she was, a huge part of her wanted to sprint off up
the road and jump into the van, safe and young again, asking Bob if she could do the gears.
"Was that your step-father?"
As she stood up and dusted herself down Amy nodded, wordless.
"Problem solved then. Get in." He smiled an alligator smile. And that was that. Amy had
no more excuses and she climbed into the car.

7

Chapter Two
Alex, 7 September 2010

The hospital ward was trapped in a stillborn pause. Nine wordless, noiseless bodies sat
rigidly under neat pastel blankets.
Alex Dale had written about premature babies, their seconds-long lives as fragile as a pile
of gold dust.
She had written about degenerative diseases and machine-dependents whose futures lay
in the idle flick of a button. She had even detailed every knife-twist of her own mother's demise,
but these patients in front of her were experiencing a very different living death.
The slack faces in the Neuro-disability ward at the Tunbridge Wells Royal Infirmary had
known a life before. They were unlike the premature babies, who had known nothing but the
womb, the intrusion of tubes and the warmth of their parents' anxious, desperate hands.
The patients weren't like the dementia sufferers whose childlike stases were punctuated
by the terror of memories.
These rigid people on Bramble Ward were different. They had lived their lives with no
slow decline, just an emergency stop. And they were still in there, somewhere.
Some blinked slowly, turning their heads slightly to the light and changing expression
fluidly. Others were freeze-framed; mid-celebration, at rest or in the eye of a trauma. All of them
were now trapped in a silent scream.
"For years patients like this were all written off," said the auburn-haired ward manager
with the deepest crow's feet Alex had ever seen. "They used to be called vegetables." She paused
and sighed. "A lot of people still call them that."
8

Alex nodded, using scrappy shorthand to record the conversation in her Moleskine pad.
The ward manager continued. "But the thing is, they're not all the same and they
shouldn't be written off. They're individuals. Some of them are completely lacking awareness,
but others are actually minimally conscious, and that's a world apart from being brain dead."
"How long do they tend to stay here before they recover?" Alex asked, poising her pen
above the paper.
"Well, very few of them recover. This summer we had one lad go home for round-theclock care from his parents and sister but that was the first one in years."
Alex raised her eyebrows.
"Most of them have been here for a long time," the manager added. "And most of them
will die here too."
"Do they get many visitors?"
"Oh yes. Some of them have families that put themselves through it every single week for
years and years." She stopped and surveyed the beds.
"I'm not sure I could do that. Can you imagine showing up week in, week out and getting
nothing back?"
Alex, tried to shake images of her own knotty-haired mother, staring blankly into her
only daughter's face and asking for a bedtime story.
The ward manager had lowered her voice, there were visitors sitting at several beds.
"It's only recently that we've realised there are some signs of life below the surface. Some
patients like these ones," she gestured to the beds behind Alex, "and I'm talking a handful across
the world, have even started to communicate."

9

She stopped walking. Both women were standing in the centre of the ward, curtains and
beds surrounding them. Alex raised her eyebrows, encouraging her to continue.
"That's not quite right, actually. Those patients had been communicating all along, the
doctors just didn't know how to hear them before. I don't know how much you've read, but after a
year, the courts can end life support if they're being kept alive by machines. And now with the
NHS funding cuts..." the nurse trailed off.
"How terrible to have no voice," said Alex, as she took scribbled notes and swayed,
nauseated, amongst the electric hum of the hospital ward.
Alex was writing a profile piece for a weekend supplement on the work of Dr Haynes,
the elusive scientist researching brain scans that picked up signs of communication in patients
like these. She hadn't met the doctor yet and was skidding towards her deadline. A far cry from
her best work.
There was one empty bed in the ward, the other nine quietly filled. All ten had identical
baby blue blankets within their lilac curtained cubicles.
Inside those pastel walls, nurses and orderlies could hump and huff the patients into a
seated position, wipe their wet mouths and dress them in the clothes brought in from home and
donated by arms-length well-wishers.
A radio fizzed from behind the reception area, as chatter and 'golden oldies' alternated
with each other. The barely audible music jostled with the sighing breaths of patients and the
beeps and whooshes of machinery.
In the furthest corner of the ward, a poster caught Alex's eye. It was Jarvis Cocker from
Pulp, limp-wristed and swathed in tweed. She strained to see the name of the magazine from
which it had been carefully removed.
10

Select magazine. Long-dead, long-forgotten, it had been the magazine of choice
throughout Alex's teens. She'd deluged the editor with unanswered letters begging for work
experience, back when music seemed to be the only love anyone could possibly want to read or
write about.
The dark blue uniformed manager who'd been showing Alex around had been snagged.
Alex spotted her talking quietly and seriously with the watery-eyed male visitor of a patient in a
stiff pink house-coat.
Alex soft shoe shuffled closer to the corner cubicle. Her shins seared with pain from her
morning run, and she winced as she quickened her steps. The thin soles of her ballet pumps
ground into her blisters like grit.
Most of the patients were at least middle-aged but the cubicle in the corner had a queasy
sense of youth.
The curtains had been half pulled across haphazardly and Alex stepped silently through
the large gap. Even in the dark of the cubicle Alex could see that Jarvis Cocker was not alone.
Next to him, a young Damon Albarn, the lead singer from Blur, mugged uncomfortably at the
camera. Both had been carefully removed from Select some years ago, dust tickling their
thumbtacks.
The scene was motionless. The bed's blanket covering a peak of knees. Two skinny arms
lay skewiff on top of the starched bedclothes, tinged purple, goose-pimpled, framed by a worn-in
blue t-shirt.
Alex had avoided looking directly at any of the patients so far. It seemed too rude to just
stare into the frozen faces like a Victorian at a freak show. Even now, Alex hovered slightly to
the side of the Britpop bed like a nervous child. She gazed at the bright white equipment that
11

loomed over the bed and scribbled needlessly in her notepad for a bit, stalling until she could
finally let her eyes fall on the top of the young woman's head.
Her hair was a deep, dark chestnut, but it had been cut roughly around the fringe and left
long and tangled everywhere else. Her striking blue eyes were half-open and marble-bright. With
Alex's long, pony-tailed dark hair and seaside eyes, the two women almost mirrored one another.
As soon as Alex let her eyes fall on the full flesh of the woman's face, she recoiled.
Alex knew this woman.
She was sure of a connection, but it was a flicker of recollection with nothing concrete to
call upon.
As her temples boomed with a panicked pulse, Alex built up the courage to look again,
mentally peeping through her fingers. Yes, she knew this face, she knew this woman.
It wasn't that long ago that Alex's powers of recall would have been razor sharp, a name
would have sparkled to light in a blink. A mental rolodex gone to rust.
Alex heard thick flat soles and heavy legs coming towards her apace. The penny dropped.
"So sorry about that," the ward manager was saying as she puffed over. "Where were
we?"
Alex span to look at her guide. "Is this..?"
"Yes it is. I wondered if you'd recognise her. You must have been very young."
"I was the same age. I mean, I am the same age."
Alex's heart was thumping, she knew the woman in the bed couldn't touch her, but she
felt haunted all the same.
"How long has she been in?"

12

The manager looked at the woman in the bed and sat down lightly on the sheets near the
crook of an elbow.
"Almost since," she said quietly.
"God, poor thing. Anyway," Alex shook her head a little. "Yes, sorry, I have a couple
more questions for you, if that's okay?"
"Of course," the nurse smiled.
Alex took a deep breath, gathered herself. "This might sound like a silly question, but is
sleep-walking ever a problem?"
"No, it's not a problem. They're not capable of moving around."
"Oh of course." said Alex, pushing strands of hair away from her eyes with the dry end of
her pen. "I guess I was surprised by the security on the ward, is that standard?"
"We don't sit guard on the door like that all the time, just when it's busy. Other than that,
we tend to stay in the office as we have a lot of paperwork. We do take security very seriously
though."
"Is that why I had to sign in?"
"Yes, we keep a record of all the visitors," said the manager. "When you think about it,
anyone could do anything with this lot, if they were that way inclined."

#
Alex drove slowly into orange sunlight, blinking heavily. Amy Stevenson. The woman in
the bed. Still fifteen, with her Britpop posters, ragged hair and girlish eyes.

13

As Alex slowed for a zebra crossing, a canoodling teenage couple in dark blue uniforms
almost stumbled onto the bonnet of her black Volkswagen Polo, intertwined like a three-legged
race team.
Alex couldn't shake the thought of Amy. Amy Stevenson who left school one day and
never made it home. Missing Amy. TV-friendly tragic teen in her school uniform; smiling school
photo beaming out from every national news programme; Amy's sobbing mother and anxious
father, or was it step-father? Huddles of her school friends having a 'special assembly' at school,
captured for the evening news.
From what Alex could remember, Amy's body was found a few days later. The manhunt
had dominated the news for months, or was it weeks? Alex had been the same age as Amy, and
remembered the shock of realising she wasn't invincible.
She'd grown up thirty minutes away from Amy. She could have been plucked from the
street at any time, by anyone, in broad daylight.
Amy Stevenson: the biggest news story of 1995, lying in a human archive.
#
It was 12.01pm. The sun was past the yardstick, it was acceptable to begin.
In the quiet cool of her galley kitchen, Alex set down a tall glass beaker and a delicate
wine glass. Carefully, she poured mineral water (room temperature) into the tall glass until it
kissed the rim. She poured chilled white wine, a good Reisling, to the exact measure line of the
wine glass and put the bottle back in the fridge door, where it clinked against five identical
bottles.
Water was important. Anything stronger than a weak beer or lager would deplete the
body of more moisture than the drink provided, and dehydration was dangerous. Alex started and
14

finished every afternoon with a tall glass of room temperature water. For the last two years, she
had wet the bed several times a week, but she had rarely suffered serious dehydration.
Two bottles, sometimes three. Mostly white but red on chilly afternoons, at home. It had
to be at home.
As Matt had stood in the doorway of their home for the last time, carrying his summer
jacket and winter coat with pitch perfect finality, he had told Alex that she "managed" her
drinking like a diabetic manages their condition.
Alex's rituals and routines had become all-encompassing. Staying in control and
attempting to maintain a career took everything. There was nothing left for managing a marriage,
much less enjoying it.
Alex hadn't expected to be divorced at twenty eight. To most people that age, marriage
itself was only just creeping onto the horizon.
She could see why Matt left her. He'd waited and waited for some inkling that she would
get better, that she would choose him and a life together over booze, but it had never really
crossed her mind to change. Even when she had "every reason" to stop. It was just who she was
and what she did.
They had met during Fresher's Week at Southampton University, though neither of them
could tell the story. Their collective memory kicked in a few weeks into the first term, by which
time they were firmly girlfriend and boyfriend and waking up in each other's hangovers every
day.
Drinking had cemented their relationship, but it wasn't everything, and it became less
important to Matt over time. They talked and laughed and did ferociously well throughout their

15

courses, (his Criminology, hers English Literature) partly through frenzied discussion, partly
through competitiveness. From the very first month, it was them. Not he or she, always them.
It had been nearly two years since the decree absolute, and she still defaulted to 'we', her
phantom limb.
Every afternoon, before the first glass touched her lips, Alex turned off her phone. She
had long closed her Facebook account, cleaned the web of any digital footprints that could allow
drunken messages to Matt, his brothers, his friends, her ex-colleagues, anyone.
Alex had a few rules come the afternoon: no phone calls, no emails, no purchases. In the
dark space between serious drinker and functioning alcoholic, there had been no rules. Cheerful,
wobbly pitches had been sent to bemused editors; sensitive telephone interviews had taken
disastrous, offensive paths; Alex had evaporated friendships with capitalised, tell-all emails and
blown whole overdrafts on spontaneous spending sprees. And far worse.
Things were better now. She was getting semi-regular work, she owned her own home.
She'd even taken up running.
At least once a week she planned her own death, and drafted an indulgent farewell letter
to Matt and the child she'd never planned, the child they would now never have.
She sat down at her desk and opened her Moleskine notepad.
"Amy Stevenson".
Alex had a story, and it was far more interesting than the one she had been sent to write.

16

Chapter Three
Jacob, 8 September 2010

Jacob loved his wife, he was sure of that most of the time, but when she talked for forty
five unbroken minutes about an extension they didn't need and couldn't afford, the lies felt
slightly softer on his conscience.
He watched Fiona's mouth moving, forming the words so resolutely. There were just so
many of them, so many bloody words, that they blended into one, ceaseless noise.
Her pink mouth was now entirely for talking. How long had it been since those lips had
softened for a kiss? Or whispered something sweet in his ear?
"Are you even listening to me?" her fierce brown eyes filled with salt water, ready to
burst their banks without notice. How long had it been since they'd made each other laugh until
tears squeezed from the corners of their eyes?
"Of course I'm listening." Jacob pushed his half-finished cereal bowl away, trying
desperately not to be outwardly aggressive, or passively aggressive, or break any other unwritten
golden rule.
When Jacob and Fiona had first met, they talked about everything. Well, almost
everything. She had fascinated him, she always had so much to say and he liked to hear it.
As boyfriend and girlfriend they had sparred, joked, talked into the next morning. On
their wedding night, they had failed to consummate the marriage, wrapped in each other's words

17

until they realised it was the next day, Fiona's legs tangled in her ivory dress train, faces sore
from smiling and laughing, sobering with the sun.
But Fiona had stopped asking about his work, stopped expecting to be told anything.
Now they wrangled over inane household topics, and not much else.
When had it happened? At the start of the pregnancy? Before?
She had certainly been myopic about ovulation dates and optimum positions but she had
still been Fiona, they had still laughed and talked.
It went beyond disinterest.
Fiona used to grill him, question the who, where, when of meetings and social activities,
cross-referencing what she was told with diary dates, previous conversations, outfits he'd chosen,
throwaway remarks.
"So exactly who is going to this Christmas party then? How come it's not wives and
girlfriends? It's normally wives and girlfriends... are any wives and girlfriends going?"
Maybe she didn't care now. Fiona had her little nugget growing in her belly, and nothing
else mattered. If so, that flew in the face of the Fiona he had fallen in love with, the Fiona he had
married. And for all the pressure that had led to it, he had been over the moon when the second
blue line appeared on that fated stick many months ago. Terrified, but over the moon.
Now sitting at the tired breakfast bar, he watched his wife unsteady on her feet. Her sense
of balance had been eroded over the last few weeks as her belly had ballooned with a new
urgency.
Jacob sighed. Every conversation nowadays led to this topic: the small, hellish kitchen.
The new kitchen extension would fix everything: the storage problem, the tricky access to
the garden, where to keep the pram, tension in the Middle East.
18

The new extension was everything. And if Fiona didn't get it, however impossible the
sums were, the world would explode. He couldn't be entirely sure that it was his baby in that
cartoon belly, and not a ticking time bomb.
The 1930s semi in Wallington Grove, Tunbridge Wells had seemed like a palace when
they moved in, just two years ago. It had taken prudence, abstinence and overtime to save a
deposit, and the newlyweds had agreed that work and salary had to be the main focus for at least
three years; they had to feed the machine. Fiona had agreed wholeheartedly, absolutely, the
mortgage was a stretch, it would take two full-time salaries to service it and they both must do
their bit.
Some eighteen months later, after a concentrated campaign veering from the subtle to the
tearful, they had started to try for a baby and conceived almost instantly. And now the baby
needed an extension.
"Fi, look, I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be shitty but I really have to go. I've got some really
awful meetings today and my head's all over the place."
'Sure," she said, "whatever."
She didn't ask for more than that. Why didn't she ask for more than that now?
They both needed to leave. Fiona for work as a graphic designer, Jacob for the hospital,
where he did not work.

19

`

FPO

THE

L A S T DAYS
OF

M AGI C
M A R K TOMPK I NS

VIKING

9780525429531_LastDays_FM_pi-xvi.indd 3

11/3/15 12:48 PM

1
Kingdom of Meath, Ireland
September 1387

A

isling fell through the rain in a land bright and dark, where the
edges of contrast were sharp, often bloody. She had thought,
even at thirteen, that she understood the many dangers of this land
where the boundaries of the human and the Sidhe realms merged, as
only someone who had been trained since birth to rule both worlds
could. Now it was knowing, not understanding, that was carried on
the tip of the arrow that had slipped beneath her left shoulder blade
on its way to her heart. Launched from her galloping horse, her body
attempting to flee the arrow’s intrusion, her arc ended abruptly in
mud, facedown. Then the pain came, an edge flaying her chest from
the inside.
Riding beside her as he always did, Liam, guardian of the Morrígna
twins, twisted on his horse to follow Aisling’s unexpected flight. A
moment earlier his attention had been drawn across the clearing
ahead, where he had sensed a rush of fear and desire, a sudden movement of iron, and a flood of intent. He had thrown his dagger even
before the assailant he perceived—a crossbreed like himself, neither
pure human nor pure Sidhe—had fully emerged from behind the
ring of seven standing stones. The knife had caught the attacker just
under the chin, lifted him off his feet, and sent his already drawn
arrow flying wide. As if a single iron-tipped arrow would ever make
it past him and on to her without one of them deflecting it. Now,
seeing Aisling land in the mud, he wondered how he could have fallen
for such a diversion. The arrow that pierced her back had come from
the opposite direction, undetected from the woods behind them.

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 9

11/3/15 2:37 PM

10

Mark Tompkins

Two of the four guards who had thundered into the clearing with
Liam and Aisling wheeled and charged the tree line. The others, swords
drawn, surveyed their surroundings while reining in their horses,
whose nervous hooves sprayed more mud across Aisling’s body.
Liam sat calmly, turning his mount to scan the woods, then walking it over to where she lay, the shaft protruding from her back. He
had inherited his muscular build from his human father, who was
of a warrior clan, while his dignified stature came from his mother,
a Sidhe—a Celtic term for those the Irish Christian Church called
Nephilim or, more casually, faeries. Leaning a forearm on his horse’s
neck, Liam studied Aisling. The splattering of rain mixed with the
sounds of branches snapping as the guards zigzagged their horses
through the undergrowth in a futile search for the second archer.
“Are you going to get up?” demanded Liam. “The high king’s
waiting for us. We can’t dally here all afternoon. You’re going to
make us late for the full-moon ritual, and I don’t want to miss the
feast. You have to be stronger than this.”
Aisling dragged one arm under her chest, then the other, and
struggled up to her hands and knees. Water trickled from her deep
red hair, leaving pale streaks down the side of her grime-soaked face.
Liam could not see her eyes but knew they would have gone from
light gray to vivid green. He also knew that she should be on her feet
already—something was wrong.
“Poison,” Aisling gasped. “In . . . my . . . heart. Spreading. Burning.”
“Great Mother Danu!” exclaimed Liam in frustration. “I told the
king that we should have you in mail already, even if you haven’t
been enthroned yet.” He reached down and tore the arrow out. She
grunted and collapsed back into mud that was beginning to take on a
red tint—her red.
“He thinks if one of you is safe, then the other is too. Well, now
he’ll grasp that he has too narrow a view of ‘safe.’”
As a warrior, Liam had to admit that the shot had been remarkable. The archer had to adjust for a target galloping away in the rain.

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 10

11/3/15 2:37 PM

THE L AST DAYS OF MAGIC

11

At that angle the bowman had to miss the shoulder blade and hit the
gap between the seventh and eight ribs to catch the only part of her
heart not protected by bone. Shot too softly, the arrow would not
reach the critical vessel, too hard and the tip would pass through the
heart, taking the bulk of the poison with it. He knew of no human
archer with such skill.
Aisling was back on her hands and knees, head hanging limp. She
reached out and fumbled for the dangling reins of her horse. Raising
her head, she climbed the reins with both hands until she was standing, clinging to the bridle, shaking.
Liam studied the unusual arrow, making no move to help her. It
had been carefully constructed to be undetectable even by a crossbreed such as himself, whose senses were inhumanly sharp. There
was nothing unnatural or even animal to draw his attention, to differentiate it from the wooded background. A hawthorn shaft, he
noted; a Celtic assassin would have used elm. No human would dare
to cut a hawthorn tree, sacred to the Sidhe, not in this land and suffer the curse that was sure to follow. Instead of feathers, ash leaves,
meticulously sliced lengthwise along their stems, were used for
flights. The head was made of oak, hardened by centuries buried in
a bog and then polished razor sharp. The Sidhe archer had to have
been a member of an old-line assassin clan or the arrowhead purchased
from one at a high price. Few could afford such a rare thing. Sniffing, Liam was surprised that he could not identify the poison, but
there had been a lot of it, judging by the warren of small channels
drilled into its head.
But why bother? Liam wondered. Whoever had staged this attack
would have known that Aisling could not be killed, not so long as her
twin sister, Anya, was safe. And Liam always made sure that Anya
was protected in a secure room while Aisling was traveling. Were
they trying to send a message? He shook his head. No, there had
been too much effort and expense; there was serious intent to kill
here. Then it hit him: Anya must not be safe. They must have found

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 11

11/3/15 2:37 PM

12

Mark Tompkins

a way to get to both twins. Liam jumped from his horse, reaching
Aisling just as she began screaming.
As he held her, his chest too tight to utter any words of comfort,
he feared that he must have failed in his duty, his oath to protect the
Morrígna twins. He picked Aisling up and carried her to his horse
while her screams faded into sobs.

Earlier that morning the courtyard of Trim Castle was full of
wagons being loaded with barrels of ale and wine, casks of freshground flour, bushels of vegetables, and whole sides of beef. Tender
piglets crowded into cages squealed high-pitched above the low grunts
of their older cousins as all were loaded alongside stacks of the iron
roasting spits with which they would soon be intimate.
There were shouts of “Careful! Careful! Quick, grab the other
end!” as long banners bearing the emblem of the Morrígna—three
strands intertwined in a complex knot—were lowered from the high
windows where they had hung for the last year. Folded and wrapped
in oilcloth, they were packed into the last of the wagons about to
depart for the Irish capital city of Tara, where they would be rehung.
Trim was the birthplace of the current incarnation of the Morrígna
twins and so was sponsoring much of their coronation ceremony, to
be held in the capital four days hence, on their fourteenth birthday.
Punctuating the hubbub came the rhythmic snap, snap, snap of
pendants on their poles above guard towers, being tested by the wind
rolling gray-black clouds overhead. A gust swirled down into the
courtyard, whipping the white robe about the old, wiry body of Haidrean, the high druid. He stood with Aisling and Anya, frowning as
he took note that tradespeople and nobles alike, hurrying to finalize
preparations, either rushed their bow to the twins or forgot altogether.
As if the pending coronation festivities were the important thing,
instead of the twins themselves. Two handmaids walked up carrying
identical coronation gowns.

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 12

11/3/15 2:37 PM

THE L AST DAYS OF MAGIC

13

“Why aren’t those packed?” barked Haidrean, causing the handmaids to cringe.
Anya came to the rescue. “Because I wanted to see them first.
Aren’t they beautiful!”
“They’re fine,” replied Aisling, giving the dresses—white silk elaborately embroidered with gold and silver thread—little more than a
glance.
“Get them in their trunk,” ordered Haidrean, and the handmaids
rushed off.
Though Anya and Aisling were identical twins, few had trouble
telling them apart, due to their different countenances. Anya, older by
minutes, was as joyful and mischievous as her sister was serious.
Aisling bore the tight mouth and often furrowed brow of a young
woman who had already watched a man die on her sword. Even though
it had been a training accident, she knew that more deaths would follow, which would not be accidents but the cost of her destiny. And
there was their hair, thick red against pale skin; Anya let hers fall free
over her shoulders and down her back, while Aisling kept hers in a
long plait, swept up and out of the way. Tall, even for their family, and
slender with light gray eyes. They would walk into rooms full of kings
never knowing what it felt like to bow, thirteen-year-olds who had not
been allowed to have a childhood, trained since birth to unlock their
Goddess nature and source enough primordial magic from the spirit
realm—drawn by way of Anann in the Otherworld—to rule over
both Sidhe and Celts.
With a cry of “Yeeup!” a driver snapped the reins on the back of
his pair of horses, and the first wagonload of provisions rolled out
the castle gate, followed by others. They would return the next day
to load up the tents, great ones for parties and smaller ones for lodging, and soon afterward the castle and village would empty out as
people flocked to Tara for the once-in-a-lifetime event.
Liam, imposing in a mail tunic, a battle-ax strapped to his back
and a brace of daggers and a claymore hanging on his belt, made a

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 13

11/3/15 2:37 PM

14

Mark Tompkins

straight path through the bustle leading two horses. People instinctively moved out of his way. Reaching Aisling, whose face had brightened at his approach, he handed her the reins of one of the horses.
“Is everything prepared?” he asked his counterpart, Haidrean.
Over the years they had become surrogate parents to the twins,
Haidrean as tutor—primarily to Anya—and Liam as fighting
instructor—primarily to Aisling, though foremost among Liam’s
duties was that of bodyguard. Anytime either or both twins were
not with him, he took great measures to ensure their safety within
the strong walls of the castle keep, which were fortified with incantations.
“I renewed the enchantments myself. Anya will be fine,” said
Haidrean. A drop of rain fell heavily at his feet. “You two better be
on your way.”
“The high king sent word that he will be coming to the fullmoon ritual as well. We will stay overnight with him there—”
“So Liam can sleep off the ale,” broke in Aisling.
“So he can escort us to Tara,” corrected Liam.
Anya threw her arms around her sister. “Can you believe it? Next
time I see you will be at our coronation. We will finally be Goddesses!”
“One Goddess,” corrected Haidrean.
“In four days, then,” said Aisling. She kissed her sister on the cheek
and slipped from her embrace.
Haidrean ushered Anya into the keep, knowing that Liam would
not ride out until she was secure inside.
“Breakfast before studies,” declared Anya, taking the corridor
toward their private dining chamber. The guards followed closely
behind them.
When they eventually moved to the library, Anya was laughing
at a comment Haidrean had made about the bishop of Rome’s being
unable to read or write.
“It gives him an excuse to keep a stable of young scribes he calls

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 14

11/3/15 2:37 PM

THE L AST DAYS OF MAGIC

15

into his bedchamber to read to him at night.” Twitching his ample
eyebrows, Haidrean added, “Young male scribes.”
Anya leaned toward him. “So you’re smarter than the pope?”
“They don’t seem to elect popes for their intellect,” Haidrean
responded, and Anya slipped into laughter again.
As he had done in the dining chamber, Haidrean took a large iron
key from his pocket, so large that it would not have fit the lock if he
had tried. Instead he touched it gently to the door, which shuddered
as if it had been struck with great force, indicating that the room was
sealed. Anya plopped into a chair at the heavy wooden table, which
was ornately carved with intertwined foliage and fanciful animals in
the Celtic La Tène style. Screens constructed from stretched sheep
intestine, scraped almost clear, were set into the tall, narrow windows, keeping the increasing rain and wind out of the stone chamber
on the second level of the castle. What little light entered from the
exterior gloom was reflected off the lime-washed white walls and
supplemented by four candles in a silver holder on one end of the
table and three simply stuck into a mound of wax on the other end.
Expensive wax candles, because Haidrean refused to subject his books
to the smoky animal fat of cheaper tallow. “The king may grumble,
but he can afford it,” said Haidrean as he lit another candle and stuck
it on the mound.
“Perhaps he can also afford a second candle holder,” Anya offered,
rolling a ball of fresh wax between her thumb and forefinger.
A large fire radiated heat and a warm glow. On this gray day, it
was the only operating hearth in the castle without dogs sleeping in
front, as druids do not keep dogs. Books were stacked in large piles
on shelves and chests around the room. Hadrian placed two books
on the table, the title Rome written across their buckskin covers,
and opened them to reveal vellum pages dense with script.
Crossing her arms, Anya gave one of her rare frowns. “Aisling
gets to ride around with Liam, learning to fight, while I’m confined
here with you, learning the ways of these Roman Christians.”

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 15

11/3/15 2:37 PM

16

Mark Tompkins

“Before you were born, the Morrígna designated you as her sage
aspect,” said Haidrean, tired of repeating himself on this point, “and
Aisling as her warrior. You can’t change that.”
“That may be, but Aisling’s aspect is more fun,” replied Anya.
“And she’ll get to stay up here in the sun.”
“Sun?” asked Haidrean, looking at the window.
“My point is that after our coronation I’m meant to reign from a
damp underworld. But I have decided that the day I’m crowned, I’ll
decree that forevermore both Morrígna twins are allowed to live
out in the light of the human world.”
“The Sidhe need an aspect of the Morrígna in the Middle Kingdom
for your rule to be recognized. That is your duty and your destiny and
why there are two of you. You and Aisling will be Goddess of both
lands. Besides, your new palace won’t seem like a damp underworld to
you after the coronation.”
“You really think I’ll feel different then?”
“Of course,” Haidrean assured her. “Already you feel Aisling as
part of yourself. Concentrate and try to describe it.”
She turned her focus inward. “It’s like she is sitting right here
with me, only more so. She fills half the very essence of who I am. I
can’t think of myself without thinking of her. She brings strength
to me, as I know I bring knowledge to her.” Anya shut her eyes. “At
the same time, I am also with her. We are galloping through the
woods, I feel the wet and cold she feels.” Anya shivered and gave a
little laugh. “We are urging our horse to run faster, trying to outpace Liam.”
“During the coronation ceremony, you will take the next step,”
said Haidrean. “You will no longer feel Aisling inside you, because
you will not sense yourself as separate from her. You will finish
becoming one being. You might not even remember there was a time
when you were two.
“Now open your eyes and return to your lesson on the Roman
Church.” Haidrean leaned across the table and slid a book toward her.

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 16

11/3/15 2:37 PM

THE L AST DAYS OF MAGIC

17

“For centuries they plotted against Ireland, and they plot still. You
need to understand them.”
Anya pushed the book a few inches back toward him. “The Vatican wouldn’t dare attack us, not after we routed Strongbow the last
time they tried. And my Irish Christian Church is as much an enemy
to the Roman Church as we are. It grows ever stronger and has as
many monasteries across Britain and Europe as the Vatican does.”
Anya grinned as she added, “Is it true what they say about Strongbow, about how he acquired that moniker, that he was gifted below
the waist?”
“Remember,” said Haidrean, ignoring her question, “the Irish
Church will not fall under your rule, so you cannot count on them to
fight for you. The Morrígna commands the armies of the Celts and
the Sidhe only.”
“And the Fomorians. No ships will get past them without my
permission,” added Anya.
Haidrean loathed Fomorians, the fierce race of amphibious Nephilim
who stalked the seas around Ireland, always reeking of rotten fish.
They were troublesome creatures, but between Celts and Christians,
Haidrean knew they preferred to eat Christians, any Christians. “They
were of great assistance stopping Strongbow,” he conceded, “so I suspect you can count on them with proper gifts and firm threats. But
even with those forces at your command, you’ll need to be vigilant and
prepared. In the two hundred years since the Vatican sent Strongbow
to invade Ireland, the Roman Church has fallen and risen anew, stronger and more deceptive than ever. I believe that you’ll have to fight
them once more, very soon.”
“Surely the Skeaghshee are a more pressing problem,” insisted
Anya.
“You can worry about negotiations with them after your birthday,
young lady. They’ll submit to your authority once you’re enthroned.”
Even as Haidrean said this, he worried that it might not be true.
The law called for the twins to ascend to the throne at the age of

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 17

11/3/15 2:37 PM

18

Mark Tompkins

fourteen, in four days, and Haidrean felt in his bones that they would
be tested early and severely. Anya and Aisling were born the
Morrígna—the Test had proved that; however, the reincarnated Morrígna arrived trapped in their human shells. From that day they had
to be taught to connect to their Goddess selves and to strip away their
human frailties fortified by fear and insecurity. They had to learn to
act as one, in order to bring the Morrígna to the forefront of their
being, and be trained to control the supernatural power that would be
fully unleashed upon their coronation.
To prepare for his role, Haidrean had studied the journals of the
earlier tutors and discovered that preceding sets of Morrígna twins
had found it increasingly difficult to transcend their human limitations. The last set never fully merged. It had looked as if this world
was becoming less willing to accept the Goddess. Then, when the
current Anya and Aisling were born, suddenly every druid in Ireland began foretelling that they would become the strongest twins
in an age. That prediction was the source of his worries as he watched
Anya creating another ball of wax. If the Morrígna needed to manifest such strong physical aspects, these twins must be destined to
face some monumental challenge.
Haidrean wondered anew if the Skeaghshee—tree-worshipping
Sidhe who were in increasing conflict with the Celts—were truly
going to submit to the twins’ authority or if they were the threat
that had called the Morrígna back to this world. The Skeaghshee’s
insolent King Kellach had not returned the Morrígna heart segment
left in trust with his clan as required by law. When that segment
went missing seven years back, druids stopped predicting how powerful the current twins would be and instead began trying to foresee how much their strength would be impaired.
No, he thought, the Roman Church would be the main threat.
He just hoped he had been a worthy teacher.
“The Vatican doesn’t worry me, no matter how strong they have
become,” said Anya, as if reading his mind.

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 18

11/3/15 2:37 PM

THE L AST DAYS OF MAGIC

19

“They should worry you,” replied Haidrean. “The condottieri army
of indentured prisoners, mercenaries, spies, and assassins assembled by
Cardinal Albornoz reunited the Papal States and returned the pope to
Rome from his Babylonian captivity in Avignon.”
“The bishop of Rome is back in Rome. How convenient.” Anya
laughed.
“Few in Europe found it funny. The Vatican’s new army killed
everyone in their path who’d opposed the restoration of a Roman pope.
Since then the Vatican has been consolidating independent Christian
factions at the point of a sword. Now the new pope eyes the remaining
church holdouts, and the Irish Church is the largest by far. Their home
in our land vexes him as much as does our alliance with the Middle
Kingdom.”
“My forces will keep them out of my lands,” Anya said.
“As the power of the Morrígna has kept the Vatican’s forces at bay,
so have Rome’s forces kept us confined to these islands. The Skeaghshee may be your first challenge once you assume your throne, but
I’m sure the Roman Church will be your greatest,” replied Haidrean.
Anya leaned her chair back to balance on two legs. “You promised to tell me how you became a druid, but you haven’t yet. Tell
me now.”
Haidrean knew she was trying to distract him to avoid further
history lessons; he also knew that underneath her playfulness she
was anxious about her pending enthronement. The wind rattled a
window screen free, and it fell. He caught it with a spell and sealed
it back in place. Corporeal magic had once been an embarrassing
weakness of his, but to his wonderment even these enchantments
had worked well for him since the twins arrived.
Anya was waiting expectantly. Unable to resist her request, Haidrean began, “I was called, without knowing I was being called, as all
true druids are.
“I’d borrowed my father’s silver knife and before dawn went out to
gather purple betony for a healing potion. As I rested at a well and

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 19

11/3/15 2:37 PM

20

Mark Tompkins

watched the sunrise, I became aware of a sound. My father was the
bard of our village, so even at seven years old I knew enough not to be
Pixie-led. Still, there was something”—his eyes stared into a distant
past—“something like song, a song that bore the scent of an unknown
flower, that drew me. I followed it through a doorway in a Sidhe
mound, traveling with new purpose. There was a Middle Kingdom
sunset and a moonrise and voices in a dark that seemed to extend forever, until I felt the touch of a woman, the woman who had sung to
me. She took my hand, and we danced and laughed and lay together.”
“At seven?”
“I was no longer seven. What seemed like only a day and a night
had changed me physically. When I awoke to another sunrise, I was
alone, back at the well in our land, and my body had passed into manhood. I could still feel her lips against my ear, whispering secrets that
I struggle to understand even today. I wrapped my too-small cloak
around my now-adult waist, gathered the betony, and returned to my
father’s house to learn that I’d been gone seven years and a day.
“Soon I began to realize that I saw, felt, heard everything differently. There was new knowledge open to my thoughts, new skills
coached by memories of those voices in the dark. A week after my
return, the previous high druid arrived bearing a druid’s brooch for
me. He’d witnessed my change in a dream and offered to teach me
to understand what I’d been told in the Middle Kingdom. I left with
him for Tara that day.”
“And the woman, the Sidhe of your passion?” asked Anya.
“We need to return to your studies.”
“Tell me, please. I fear growing old alone in my bed in the Middle Kingdom, while the Sidhe around me remain young. Your story
keeps hope alive for my own passions.”
“She continued to come to me, some nights, in my dreams. Nights
full of the taste of her skin and the smell of her hair . . .” Haidrean’s
words drifted off.
“Not just in dreams, if your son is any evidence.”

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 20

11/3/15 2:37 PM

THE L AST DAYS OF MAGIC

21

“With those from the Middle Kingdom, it’s often difficult to tell
the difference between dreaming and being awake. I’m not sure it
matters to them. My son appeared in a dream one night, a fresh
wiggling baby, and was still there when I awoke.”
“Does she come to you still?”
“Occasionally, though not to my bed. Now she only stands in the
forest, as young as ever, watching our son gather wild rose by moonlight. I often wonder if one day he, too, will go on a long walk and if
he’ll return at all. You know, I hope to go back to the Middle Kingdom someday—I think possibly when I’ve learned enough to understand all her whispered words, after you’re enthroned and I’m no
longer needed.”
Anya did not hear him.
Haidrean saw that her eyes had turned vivid green. Behind him
he heard the sound of small stones falling to the floor, followed by a
sharp crack. He turned to see a fresh, rough opening no more than a
foot tall in the stone wall. From it a Skeaghshee emerged and straightened up to his full seven-foot height. Haidrean recognized him as
Cinaed, brother to Kellach the Skeaghshee king. Without a word Cinaed
strode toward Haidrean, drawing a long, slender sword from the scabbard strapped to his back.
No, this can’t be, thought Haidrean. She hasn’t been given the
chance to negotiate their grievances. He turned back to Anya and
could see that she was with her twin, her eye color and the pain moving across her face telling him everything he needed to know. Aisling
had also been attacked. All was about to be lost. Leaning across the
table, he spoke urgently into her ear, “Send Aisling all your strength.
Now. It’s the only hope.”

As Liam and Aisling were riding out of Trim Castle, Kellach stood
on a low rise not far away in the midst of dozens of fresh tree
stumps. The gathering storm whipped his long hair, the brown of

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 21

11/3/15 2:37 PM

22

Mark Tompkins

oak bark, about his thin face that was contorted with fury, for he
was king of the Skeaghshee, Sidhe of the open and wild forests, and
before him was a scene of murder. Running his hand over the rough
wood he tried to comfort the dying base and roots. He could feel the
presence of the tree’s ghost, as an amputee feels a missing arm and
the sudden, sharp sting of the ax it had suffered.
Skeaghshee were the Sidhe clan most in contact with the Celtic
world, as they lived out in the woodland that covered Ireland rather
than within the Middle Kingdom. While many Sidhe ate as humans
ate, Skeaghshee drew all their sustenance, pleasure, and joy from the
trees they loved.
The time has come to stop this slaughter, Kellach thought. After
today the Celts will have no say over my trees, there will be no Morrígna in this world to subjugate our clan, and the truce between the
Sidhe and the Celts will be broken.
Sensing his younger brother Cinaed approach, Kellach said, “I
summoned you to make sure you saw this before your sortie. Behold
another assault on our clan.”
Cinaed bowed and said, “A tragedy, my king. My heart weeps
with yours.”
“Celts are creatures who think only of their own pathetic needs:
wood for their carts and their furniture and their fires and their
buildings,” Kellach continued. “Some say the truce is adequate, with
prayers and offerings each time a tree is taken, but now they have
gone too far, allowing the Vikings to cut trees for their ships and even
to export wood to the French to make barrels for their wine. More
and more often, our clan is left grieving over offenses such as this.”
“I understand the stakes, my king. I will not fail you.”
“My brother.” Kellach grasped Cinaed’s shoulders. “Others worship the earth or the sun or even water, but trees, trees are all three
brought alive, living, breathing, talking to our people. No offering is
adequate for the death of even one of our trees. Celts and their allies
will never allow our woods to remain sacred, never truly respect our

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 22

11/3/15 2:37 PM

THE L AST DAYS OF MAGIC

23

kind. If the Skeaghshee are ever going to be free, we must act now.
You are my champion. Remember what I have taught you and you
will prevail.”
“My sword is hungry, my king.”
Watching him stride away, Kellach felt confident that his moment
of victory was at hand.
The rain had started in earnest, pounding the land above as Cinaed
stood impatiently in a tight earthen tunnel facing the foundation stones
of Trim Castle. He longed to be through with his task. Sidhe do not
concern themselves with the height of the passages through which
they travel; that is not what troubled him. He was troubled by a faint,
nagging voice inside his head. Different from Kellach’s ravings and his
own obedient responses, this voice told him that he was about to break
a sacred oath and that he had been led astray.
On each side of him stood a Grogoch, a shorter—relatively speaking in this confined space—much stockier Sidhe clan, reciting to the
stones. For a millennium and longer, the Skeaghshee had intimidated
the Grogoch into leaving a warren of secret faerie passages in the
stones that they provided to the Celts for their castles, invaluable for
spying. Once the existence of these passages becomes known to their
druids—humans pretending to be Sidhe witches—they will be found
and destroyed, thought Cinaed. It will be a great loss, but worthwhile
under the circumstances. Glancing at one of the creatures now singing to the wall, Cinaed willed it to hurry. Grogoch think as slowly as
the rock they love.
The song of the Grogoch faded, taking with it the enchantment
that had been hiding the passage he needed, this was the first time
this one had been used. In front of him, a small door appeared, set
in the face of a single foundation stone, two feet high by four feet
wide. Opening it with a word, he bent and entered.
Cinaed stepped into Haidrean’s library at last and straightened up
to his full height. He had been delayed, not long, but maybe too long.

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 23

11/3/15 2:37 PM

24

Mark Tompkins

He flung a silent curse back down the passage at the waiting Grogoch, ignored their muffled cry of pain. Some clumsiness or laziness
or double-dealing by their kind centuries earlier had left this passage
without an exit door in the last stone. He’d been forced to break
through into the chamber. In doing so he had triggered an enchantment designed to protect the room and, more problematically, alerted
the druid Haidrean to his approach.
He pushed briefly against the enchantment with his consciousness and realized that he was not going to survive. It had closed too
late to keep him out—the druid who cast it must not have considered
an attack through the wall—so now it was going to keep him in.
Reaching for his sword, Cinaed strode toward the pair at the table,
but the old druid was already whispering to Anya, “Send Aisling all
your strength. Now. It’s the only hope.”
Cinaed’s sword swept down, severing Haidrean’s head. He leaped
over the table and thrust at the unmoving Anya. As he carved
through breast and bone, he could feel that the Morrígna was already
leaving. There was little more than this shell left. Gods, don’t let me
be too late, he thought. Kellach had stressed that the attacks on the
twins had to be simultaneous in order to kill them both. Cinaed
reached into the cleft he had made in her chest and pulled out a heart
that began to shrivel in his hand.
Still, he hesitated. In the fifteen hundred years since the Battle
of Tailltiu, which led to the truce between the Sidhe and the Celts,
three attempts had been made to assassinate a physical aspect of the
Morrígna, yet no assassin had ever held half the Morrígna heart in
his hand, as he now did. What will the two worlds become without
the Goddess to connect them? he worried. She was the ruler of their
high kings, the one being to whom all Sidhe and Celts alike owed
allegiance, bound by ancient oaths.
Looking down at the heart folding in on itself, he could feel the
enchantment fading at the chamber door. Soon the guards who had
been shouting for Anya would be able to enter. He thought of the

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 24

11/3/15 2:37 PM

THE L AST DAYS OF MAGIC

25

words of Kellach. Raising the heart to his mouth, he bit off a large
chunk and began to chew. The dagger of the first guard reached him
as he swallowed the last piece.

Aisling could feel Anya’s energy flowing into her body, keeping
her alive, when suddenly a wound she did not know could be inflicted
opened up in her, bringing pain that eclipsed that of the arrow and
its poison. In that instant her bond with her sister was ripped away,
and with it her connection to the Otherworld. Screaming, she collapsed into Liam’s arms, knowing for the first time since conception
what it was to be alone, to be less than whole.
Kellach watched Liam carry a limp and sobbing Aisling to his horse.
Having made himself indistinguishable from the surrounding trees,
the Skeaghshee king stood in the rain at the edge of the clearing. A
brief shudder passed through him, like a faint gust through leaves,
as he felt the death of his brother, Cinaed. Knowing that Liam could
sense the presence of a powerful Sidhe, Kellach was careful to remain
concealed. Although he detested all crossbreeds, Liam was one whom
he would prefer not to fight by himself. So he waited until the guards
regrouped, collected Aisling’s horse, and galloped back the way they
had come.
Expelling the Morrígna with concurrent attacks had been too
much to hope for, he thought. Kellach had preached to his followers
that if each of the twins’ hearts could be destroyed before its share
of the Morrígna could retreat to the Otherworld, the Treaty of Tailltiu would be broken and all the Sidhe clans would at last unite and
rise against the Celts and the Christians and reclaim the land they
had lost. He, Kellach, would lead them to victory.
As his concealment enchantment faded, Kellach retreated into
the woods. He should not have had to sacrifice his brother. He should
not have had to deal with the twins at all, he thought, his anger

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 25

11/3/15 2:37 PM

26
Mark Tompkins

rising. They were not truly entitled to rule and should
not have par- ticipated in the Ceremony of Hearts
seven years ago, even if they had survived the Test. He
alone of all the kings of the Middle King- dom had
stood up to the Morrígna’s tyranny. He alone had
refused to return the pitifully small segment of heart
that had been granted to the Skeaghshee clan for
safeguarding, after the passing of the pre- vious
Morrígna twins. Without it the Ceremony of Hearts had
been a sham, he told himself.
But now even the high kings would have to
acknowledge that the surviving twin was flawed and, by
the laws of both the Sidhe and the Celts, could not rule
either race. Aisling had been wounded as never before.
With her diminished state, he would seize the next
chance he got to kill her and banish the Morrígna for all
time.

9780525429531_LastDays_TX_p1-384.indd 25

11/3/15 2:37 PM

`

T WO DE SERTS

1S
R
1L

89611_Daredevils_TX_p1-312.indd 1

8/3/15 9:38 AM

evel knievel addresses
an adoring nation

When did we first think of jumping a canyon? It seems now that we
always thought it. That it was always there for us to think. What
do you call that, when the world guides you toward its purpose?
We believed, America. We believed we could do anything we tried
to do. We believed we could do anything we said we would do. We
believed in ourselves and the things we were saying. We believed
that in saying these things, we were already making them true.

1S
R
1L

89611_Daredevils_TX_p1-312.indd 3

8/3/15 9:38 AM

July 6, 1974

S hor t C r e e k , A r i z on a

L

oretta slides open her bedroom window and waits, listening
to the house. She pops out the screen and slowly pulls it in-

side. The summer night is blue and black, filled with plump, spiny
stars and the floral waft of alfalfa and irrigated fields. She swings
one leg out, then the other, and sits on the sill. A tiny, muffled
creak sounds, and she can’t tell if it comes from the house or the
night or inside her jangled mind. She spends every day now thinking about the night, and this moment is always the same—the exhilarating passage from here to there. To the brief, momentary
future. To Bradshaw.
She drops to the ground and sets off across the lawn, hunched as
if trying to stay below the searching beam of a powerful light. She
is wearing her jeans, the one pair her father lets her keep for chores,
and her clogs. Her Gentile clothes. The mountains, red by day,
stand black and craggy against the rich ink of night. Their home is

1S

on the edge out here, on the edge of the Short Creek community

R
1L

89611_Daredevils_TX_p1-312.indd 5

8/3/15 9:38 AM

S h aw n V e s t a l
just as she and her family are on the edge of it—half outsiders, not
yet inside the prophet’s full embrace—but that makes it easier to
sneak away without being spotted by the prophet’s men. The God
Squad, Bradshaw calls them. If she sees car lights, she crouches in
the ditch grass until they pass, but tonight she sees no car. She
walks the barrow pit for a quarter mile, grass cool on her bare ankles, to where the dirt lane runs into county road and she sees
Bradshaw’s Nova on the wide roadside, pale luster along the fender,
signal lights glowing like the hot eyes of a new beast coiled against
the earth.
As she comes to the car, the passenger door opens, as if on its
own, and the interior light blares, and there he is, Bradshaw, smile
cocked on his hard, happy face. She feels it again, the sense that
she doesn’t know if she loves him, or even if she likes him, because
sometimes she yearns for a glimpse of him and sometimes she feels
desperate to get away from him—Bradshaw, sitting there with his
wrist draped on the steering wheel like a king—but what is certain
is that she cannot resist his gravity. She falls toward him at a speed
beyond her control.
“There she is,” he says as she slides in. “Holy hell, Lori, you are
a vision.”
He leans over and presses his chapped lips against her mouth.
He tastes of beer, yeasty and sour. He pulls away and looks at her
searchingly, ghostly eyes somehow alight, head tilted, one curly
sideburn grazed by the green dashboard glow.
“Did you miss me, sweet Lori?”
“I missed you.”
“Did you think about me a whole bunch?”
1S

“I thought about you all the time.”

R
1L
6

89611_Daredevils_TX_p1-312.indd 6

8/3/15 9:38 AM

Da r edev ils
She loves how much he seems to love her. He kisses her again,
cupping the back of her head with a hand. She puts her hands on
his back, feels the knots of muscle there. Sometimes she thinks he
is trying to press his face through hers. To consume her. She wants
this, always—this sin—but when it arrives she does not enjoy it,
because he loses himself. He spreads a palm on her rib cage, thumb
an inch from her breast. Then closer.
They part. He breathes as if he’s been sprinting.
“Did you think any more about it?” he says.
He wants her to leave with him. To take off for good and
put The Crick in the rearview mirror. To be together, he says. Together together.
“I did,” she says. “I want to. But I don’t think yet. I don’t think now.”
“Aww, Lori,” he says. “Don’t say that. Don’t you say that to me.”
She wants to go. She wants to fly into her future, but she feels
she must be very careful, must be precise and exact, or she will miss
it. She is sure that her future is a specific place, a destination she
will either reach or miss, and it awaits her out there somewhere
away from all that is here. Away from the long cotton dresses.
Away from the tedious days in church school, studying the same
scriptures they study all day on Sundays. Away from her father’s
stern but halfhearted righteousness and her mother’s constant acquiescence. And, mostly, away from the looming reality that no
one ever says a word about: she is fifteen, she is eligible, she is a
means now for her father to pursue his own righteousness. He cannot take another wife himself, but he can still serve the Principle—
the principle of plural marriage. Celestial marriage. They have
been welcoming certain brothers for dinners in their home. The
1S

men are always bright with questions for Loretta.

R
1L
7

89611_Daredevils_TX_p1-312.indd 7

8/3/15 9:38 AM

S h aw n V e s t a l

Bradshaw wrestles her to the seat for a while, and then they drive
and talk. He loves to be listened to. He loves to tell her about the
way he has handled something, the way he has put someone in their
place. He is talking about his new boss, the turf farmer outside
St. George.
“So he keeps handing me the eleven-sixteenths, and I keep
asking for the thirteen-sixteenths, and then he does it again,”
he  says, slapping a hand on the dash. “I say, Bud, you got your
glasses on?”
His laugh is like a chugging motor. Why does he think she wants
to hear this? The strange thing is, she does. She loves listening to
him talk, to his strange locutions, his crudeness. So hungry I could
eat the ass out of a cow, he’ll say. Shit oh dear. That smarmy bastard. He never utters a righteous word. It wasn’t all that long ago
that Loretta thought he was her savior, the one who’d rescue her.
She has been heading out into the night since she was thirteen, she
and her friend Tonaya, meeting up with the Hurricane boys, the St.
George boys, the boys the prophet had exiled. They were the crowd
Loretta and Tonaya chased around whenever they could, sneaking
out at night, joyriding on dirt roads, drinking beer, building bonfires in the desert, shoplifting at the grocery store, riding in the
backseat as the boys bashed mailboxes or keyed cars, coming home
before dawn, climbing back in that bedroom window, back into
the world where no one watched television, where they prayed constantly, or sat over scripture, or sang hymns, or walked to the
neighbors to weed a garden. Out there, into the worldly world, and
1S
R

then back home, to reverence and boredom.
The night she met Bradshaw, she and Tonaya were wedged in

1L
8

89611_Daredevils_TX_p1-312.indd 8

8/3/15 9:38 AM

Da r edev ils
the backseat of an old Rambler station wagon owned by one of the
boys, parked outside the 7-Eleven in Hurricane looking for someone
to buy them something—a six-pack, a bottle of sweet wine. That
night, it was Bradshaw. Almost immediately, when he came around
the side of the store and handed the bag into the car, he looked into
the back and found Loretta’s eyes. He was older than the boys she
was hanging around with, but younger than the men in Short
Creek, the men whose eyes she felt on Sundays at church, the men
who blushed if she returned their gaze. Bradshaw didn’t blush,
ever. Everything about him announced that he did not harbor a
doubt—his quick, bow-legged walk, eyes of washed-out blue and
angular face, and the way he was always doing something handsome and prominent with his jaw, cocking it this way or that. Soon
she was meeting him alone, and every time she climbed into his car
he looked thrilled and he said, “There she is,” like he was announcing something the world had long awaited.
Now, tonight, Bradshaw turns onto a dirt road and guns it, fishtailing the Nova into the desert. They drive up into a bump of low
hills where he will find a reason to stop again. It’s past midnight,
almost one, Loretta guesses, and she remembers that tomorrow is
Fast Sunday, the first Sunday of the month, and she has forgotten
to stash something to eat.
“There’s probably nothing open now, is there?” she asks.
“Open for what?”
“Some food. Anything. Tomorrow’s Fast Sunday.”
“Tomorrow’s what Sunday?”
Does Bradshaw not know what Fast Sunday is? The day of fasting? He’s lived down here all his life.
1S

“Fast Sunday. No eating. I get headaches if I don’t sneak some-

R

thing.”

1L
9

89611_Daredevils_TX_p1-312.indd 9

8/3/15 9:38 AM

S h aw n V e s t a l
Bradshaw brays laughter. “A day of no eating. You Mormons. I
swear.”

You Mormons. Loretta doesn’t think of herself—of her family, of
Short Creek—as Mormon, exactly, although everyone here thinks
of themselves as the only true Mormons. In her mind, Mormons
were what they were before they came here seven years ago. Mormons were what they were when they lived in Cedar City, went to
the church on Main Street, the tan-brick wardhouse on a street
with ordinary homes and a grocery store and a gas station. Mormons, she thinks, live in the real world, or at least closer to it. They
had a television back then, and a radio in the kitchen. Her mother
listened to country music. They dressed like real people, like
worldly people—though, she knows, they were farmier and more
country than Salt Lake City Mormons, the rich, blond Mormons,
the ones you can barely tell are even Mormons at all. Mormons,
she thinks, marry one person at a time.
They came here when she turned eight—the age for her baptism.
Her father had grown up in Short Creek, on the desert border between Utah and Arizona, among the polygamists and fundamentalists, but he had left as a teenager, a rebellious boy encouraged by
the prophet to leave. They had lived in Cedar and Loretta’s parents
raised eight children, and he worked fixing cars at the town’s auto
dealership. Loretta came late and unexpected, as her father had
begun turning back toward the faith he had departed and hardening against the soft ways of the mainstream church. When it came
time to baptize Loretta, he found he could not do so. They moved
1S

back to The Crick—where his brothers lived, where his parents had

R

died. You cannot exactly join this church, Loretta knows; you can-

1L
10

89611_Daredevils_TX_p1-312.indd 10

8/3/15 9:38 AM

Da r edev ils
not simply show up and convert to the Fundamentalist Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but because of his family and his
history and his willingness to submit, her father was allowed to
return, half-caste. Still, all these years later, they are not yet fully in
the United Order—the inner circle of the most righteous, those living in the Principle of plural marriage—and yet are allowed to
hope, to strive, probationary.
She remembers the spring night her father told them they were
returning. They sat around the small kitchen table, the smell of cut
grass pungent through the screen door. A Pyrex dish of hamburger
casserole, a meaty stew run through with ribbons of noodle and
brownish clumps of tomato, sat before them. Her mother wore an
ankle-length dress, nothing like she would usually wear. An exhausted pall shadowed her face, and she did not say one word. Loretta’s father, stout and slow, spoke in the deliberate voice that
made him seem dumb; his hands were flat on the table beside his
plate, grooved in engine black. He answered all of her questions in
a tone that made it clear the decision had been made.
“It is for your eternal soul, Loretta, that we do this,” he said.
“Even if you can’t see that.”
Loretta’s mother sat twisting her hands, galaxies of red dots
spreading across her face and neck. They were both so old, Loretta
knew even then—like grandparents. Her father was always wearily
heaving himself up and around, always groaning toward the next
task, and her mother moved with slow, weary resignation. And
now there she was, dressed like a sister wife, dressed the way you
would see the Short Creek women dressed when they came to
town. Loretta wanted her mother to say something then, to say
1S

anything at all.

R

Loretta has never felt right here. She hates to braid her hair. She

1L
11

89611_Daredevils_TX_p1-312.indd 11

8/3/15 9:38 AM

S h aw n V e s t a l
hates to sit quietly while the boys run and shout. She does not want
to live in one of these strange, huge families, the men orbited by
constellations of wives and children. She imagines her future as
something like the ads in magazines she has glimpsed in stores, in
the hair salon in St. George, those times her mother has let her go.
Modern clothing and fast cars and makeup and shining tall buildings that glow at night and cigarettes and cocktails and every forbidden thing. She loved the lipstick ad with the beautiful girl in
black jeans lying on the hood of a pink Mustang and smirking into
the camera. The name of the lipstick like a password: Tussy.

Bradshaw’s hand is inside her blouse, crawling over her back. Her
mouth is sore, her neck is tired. He puts his hand on the inside of her
thigh and squeezes. He takes the skin of her neck in his teeth and
bites gently, but not gently enough. “Some night I won’t be able to
stop myself,” he says, breath like a furnace. “I can’t be responsible.”
Sometimes he holds her wrists so hard he leaves small bruises.
He says he can’t help it, and she believes him because he acts like he
can’t help it. She wants to do it, too, although she’s also scared it
will create something unstoppable in Bradshaw, and she resents the
way he pressures her. Still, she spends her days thinking about
coming out into the night with Bradshaw and so she wonders if he
is not a savior after all but a demon, since she will keep coming to
him even as she wants it less and less.
Finally, they stop. He begins to ask her again about leaving.
“Not yet, baby,” she says. “Not now.” She calls him baby because she wants to calm him, like a baby, and because she knows
1S

that this is how people talk to each other out in the world where her

R

future lies.

1L
12

89611_Daredevils_TX_p1-312.indd 12

8/3/15 9:38 AM

Da r edev ils
“Well, holy shit, Lori, what are we waiting for?”
“Money,” she says. “A plan or something.”
“I got your plan right here,” he says, taking her hand and placing
it on the stiffening in his jeans.
She yanks it back and says, “I’m serious.”
If they leave now, all she’ll have is him.

Pink light is etching the hilltops when she returns. It is the coolest
time of the day, the very early morning, and she yearns for sleep,
wondering how she will steal slumber today. She crosses the lumpy,
wormholed backyard and comes to her window. The house, the
small Boise Cascade rancher in light blue and navy blue, is silent.
Stepping between her mother’s paper flower bushes, she uses a finger to open the slider, hoists herself into the bedroom, and takes up
the screen and replaces it. When she turns at last she leaps and
gasps, startled by the sight of her father sitting on her bed.
“I had not guessed you to be such a rebellious harlot,” he
whispers.
Loretta is frozen, her mind a storm.
“Can you say nothing? Can you not invent some lie?”
She is somehow not terrified, though she can’t think what to say
or do. Her father stands. He comes toward her slowly, his sorehipped walk, rage purpling his face. Her mother watches from the
doorway. Loretta could outrun them, overpower them, probably,
but she does not. He seizes her ponytail and slaps her on the side of
the head. A slow-motion slap. It hurts less than she expects. He is
large bellied and top-heavy, ready to tip, and it is this that she seizes
on as he swings his arm slowly again and again, each strike hurting

1S

less than she expects, each blow breaking through whatever is hap-

R
1L

13

89611_Daredevils_TX_p1-312.indd 13

8/3/15 9:38 AM

S h aw n V e s t a l
pening now and making a path forward, she thinks, toward her
future. He is speaking to her, growling, grunting, but she doesn’t
hear him, and soon she can’t feel his blows. The flesh on the side of
her face fills and puffs, rising like dough. He is old, he is old, and
she is on her way to somewhere else.
The day follows, still and silent. It is unspoken that she will remain in her room. Awaiting what, she does not know. Her father
does not go to his brother’s ranch, to care for the livestock they
raise for the United Order. They do not go to church. Her father
comes to put a lock on her bedroom door, a toolbox in his left hand
and the lock in the other. He doesn’t look at her, canting his head
away as if from light of punishing brightness. He mutters and fumbles. Her mother comes in with toast and eggs on a tray, red eyed
and pale in her housecoat. Loretta wonders if they have forgotten it
is Fast Sunday.
She should have gone with Bradshaw. Should she have gone with
Bradshaw? Which unknown path should she choose, and how
should she choose it? All she knows is that while she waited for an
answer, the paths closed down. Bradshaw won’t even know why
she will stop showing up.
Her father finishes and leaves. Then she hears him outside her
bedroom window, doing something to the slider. Hours pass. Loretta, still clothed in her jeans and work blouse, lies on the bed.
Everything has a thickened feel, as if all of life will be reduced now
to this: a room, some food, and time. She falls asleep hard, and
when she awakens to the clicking of the lock on her door, she is
groggy and disoriented. She sits up to see her mother entering.
As she sits on the bed, Loretta notes that she is still in her house1S

coat, the pilled flannel plaid. Loretta doesn’t speak. She has not

R

said one word to them since climbing back in that window. She

1L
14

89611_Daredevils_TX_p1-312.indd 14

8/3/15 9:38 AM

Da r edev ils
wonders if she will ever say another word to them. Her mother’s
face looks older than Loretta has ever seen it, collapsing like fruit
that’s turned. She speaks tentatively, tearfully.
“Your father has made a decision,” she says.
The words come at Loretta as if through water.
“What you’ve done—” Her mother stops. “He feels—”
She smooths her trembling hands outward along her legs, as
though brushing crumbs to the floor.
“We feel that you are in peril. That your soul is in peril.”
Neither she nor her mother has anything to do with this. Neither
has any part in it but to obey. Her father has agreed to place her
with Brother Harder, with Dean Harder, the man who runs Zion’s
Harvest, the food supply, a righteous man, a faithful member of
the Order, who is ready to add to his heavenly family.
“Place me?” Loretta asks.
“You know,” her mother says, so quietly that Loretta can barely
hear her over the sound of a sprinkler fanning the lawn outside.
“You’ve known.”

1S
R
1L
15

89611_Daredevils_TX_p1-312.indd 15

8/3/15 9:38 AM

For more great resources, visit us online.
Check out our blog and social media pages for the latest publicity news,
book trailers, excerpts, author interviews, catalogs, and more.

www.PenguinRandomHouseLibrary.com
Join Our Network: PRHLibrary

And, to request full eGalleys of these titles and more,
please log in to Edelweiss or NetGalley.

Content in this sampler is excerpted by permission of Penguin Random House. All rights reserved.
No part of this excerpt booklet may be reproduced or reprinted without permission
in writing from the publisher.